COVID-19 raises urgent ethical issues for each of us. Our experts shape real-time responses.

Focus Area: Environment

People exert great pressure on the natural world. Habitats and species suffer from environmental changes caused by industry and technology, which sometimes results in harm to humans. Pollutants cause health problems, ocean acidification affects the food supply, and climate change may cause unnecessary deaths and widespread social disruptions.

Increasingly, these challenges are global in scale, such as the relentless rise of greenhouse gases driving climate change, and the shortages of fresh water, fuel, and natural resources that—when diminished—threaten society. Social injustices may arise when certain populations are affected more acutely by harm to the environment.

When considering advanced technologies that might benefit people and the planet, like creating artificial and potentially nonorganic life forms, humans must recognize the associated consequences. Making and deploying new technologies requires thinking more deeply about how they are judged, critically assessing what counts as a risk or a benefit, and debating how each should be weighed. Balancing humans’ relationships with the natural world must be a multifaceted consideration, involving political and institutional change at national and global levels, reduced human demands on the environment, and better technologies to process natural resources.

While humans have always aspired to make themselves better, scientific and technological advances complicate thinking about the long-term effects. Now more than ever, it is crucial to have an educated workforce in place to set and uphold ethical standards that will determine whether actions will diminish or enhance humanity.