Morality and the Environmental Crisis

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 May 2019

Member Reviews

A big thank you to NetGalley and Cambridge university press for the ARC. I am voluntarily reviewing this book.  Hmm this book was not what I expected at all.  I was hoping for some good basic information not just religious and philosophical stuff.  This was not my thing   2.5 stars
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I really want to love this book but right now I couldn't get into it. I haven't finished it. From what I read it seemed like it was written well and I really wanted to be sucked in but I wasn't.
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I learned a lot from this book. It also made me extremely sad at what we are facing in the future of our planet. Do we have a future? It brought up questions that really motivated me to make a change and be more vocal about those changes.
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Oh, wow, what a great book. It took me quite a while to finish but that has nothing to do with the book itself. I am, as a biology student but also as a human living in these times, very interested in the environmental crisis. So naturally, I read a lot about it. Some books are more depressing, some are too light, but Morality and the Environmental Crisis is just right. Not too heavy but serious enough.

The book approaches the environmental problems from different angles, and covers many aspects. I'd say it's really thorough and complete. It is obviously well researched. The problems are very well explained, and the author uses normal, relatable examples to explain the various topics. You don't have to be an environmentalist to understand this book! 

What I didn't like - a minor peeve - was the constant stream of questions. The author has a lot of them; it makes sense ofcourse because what do we know about how the crisis will affect life on earth? Not a lot. But I can't answer those questions either. So for me - sometimes I felt a little bombarded with questions I can't answer. 

Anyway, a great insightful book that makes you think. It's not too depressing so check it out if you're curious about the environmental crisis.
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In 1970 Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken."  “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” wrote Washington University biologist Barry Commoner in that same year. In 1969 biologist Paul Ehrlich wrote  “By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions."  “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” declared Denis Hayes, the chief organizer for Earth Day, in 1970. In January 1970, Life magazine reported, “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half."  Ecologist Kenneth Watt in 1970 declared, “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil." And  Harrison Brown, a scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, published a chart in Scientific American that looked at metal reserves and estimated the humanity would totally run out of copper shortly after 2000. Lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would be gone before 1990.

Roger Gottlieb's book is jammed packed with the same kind of nonsense.

Also, I have been read that doomsday environmentalism has become a movement of almost unlimited religious fervor and "Morality and the Environmental Crisis" proves that this is clearly the case.

I wrote this review on Earth Day 2019 so that everyone can avoid this dreadful book!
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Morality and the Environmental Crisis by Roger S. Gottlieb — How can we be good people when so many of our individual and collective actions contribute to the destruction of the planet? This major new academic book explores the philosophical, religious, political, societal and ethical challenges and opportunities of living in a time of crisis. (Or you can just watch this episode of “The Good Place.”)
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The author's painstaking research and attention to detail is obvious in the writing of this book.  There were many facts that I only discovered after reading this!
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Deeply thoughtful and reasoned, Morality and the Environmental Crisis by Roger S. Gottlieb is a profound work that draws from all areas of human thought and experience. 

Gottlieb proposes an argument then offers the counterarguments in a complex ladder of understanding that is nevertheless so well presented that the reader can follow the progression of thought. 

Some years ago I participated in a small group study on energy use and climate change. The participants were all of a like mind and voiced frustration with 'those people' who remained unresponsive to arguments to change their lifestyle. The antagonism and anger weighed heavy in the air. 

We cannot change the world or even change all the people around us. 

We can only do what we can do. I have used tote bags for shopping for years. I have decided to make bags for produce instead of using the plastic ones at the stores. I have recycled glass and cans and paper for forty-seven years. I rarely buy red meat. When we turned in our leased car we had clocked only 10,000 miles over three years. We insulated our house and bought all LED bulbs. We compost and avoid pesticides.

It isn't enough. 

We support candidates that work to save the Great Lakes and who are concerned with climate change. 

It isn't enough.

As Gottlieb writes, we are still complicit--I am still complicit.

I buy yards of cotton fabric to make quilts as a creative outlet--cotton that requires fertilizers and pesticides and factories to make it into fabric and chemicals to treat it and trucks to get it to the quilt shop. Just so I can cut it up and sew it into something new, tossing the bitty scraps into the trash that goes into a landfill.

I am part of the problem. We all are. Our entire society, economy, and culture make us so. As a society, we are more interested in technology than nature. Jobs instead of preservation. Maintaining our lifestyle than worrying about oil spills somewhere else. 

We need widespread collective and political action to change society. Maybe it can happen--we got a man on the moon and people sacrificed to support the war effort during WWII. Nothing less can alter the course we are headed on.

I continue to do what I can because it feels like a moral imperative, like not leaving untended fires in the forest or tossing trash along the roadside, a habit based in reason and science and tradition and personal values.

Do we love nature enough--know nature personally enough to care to preserve it? Not just the puppy mill dogs and the lab rabbits, but also the forests and the marshlands?

How can we save the natural world from our collective brutality if we do not love it? If we do not know it, how can we love it? and if everything else--work, ease, moral limits, the dominant institutions of our society--removes us from it? from Morality and the Environmental Crisis

Gottlieb ends the book by employing the ageless use of story to show the choice we each must make: we can embrace despair or gratitude. Gratitude does not negate despair, it makes life worth living in the face of awful realities.

Learn more about the book and author and see the table of contents at

I was given access to a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an fair and unbiased review.
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What I like about this book is that you do not have to be an Environmentalist to read it and understand what the author is saying.
He explores everything we do as humans and their effects on nature but also calls you to question and understand the profound impact nature has on you, and that in itself gets you to pause and reflect. There were bits and pieces that felt like they'd warrant a lecture but all in all, it was a great read because now I know a thing or two about my environment and can now weigh in or better yet understand what stance to take in an argument concerning the environment.
Thanks Netgalley for the eARC.
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The Book of Arguments

The arguments over environmental issues are well known. How they fit into everyone’s thinking less so. Roger Gottlieb has been teaching this subject for years. He has all the questions, from both sides and is enormously fair about them. He describes the dilemma as right vs. right. Morality and the Environmental Crisis is a book of arguments. A very different kind of environmental book. And still no real way out.

Gottlieb presents a lot of positions throughout the book. Hundreds of them. Some are part of the daily news grind. Others will give pause. Sometimes you can dismiss an argument out of hand. Sometimes, even Gottlieb does. But the morality underlying the positions on both sides merits a good long look:

-In a society capable of two world wars within 25 years of each other, that is capable of believing in systems whose lack of reason is palpable, it is not hard to see that “an environmental crisis can arise, be neglected or denied, and even when responded to get only a fraction of the attention it requires,” he says.
-Man thinks the whole world is at his command, including all of nature. Therefore, he can act willfully badly without concern for the effect it will have on nature. 
-Because of his newly acquired distance from nature, not even knowing where his food or ability to breathe comes from, it is of no concern. 
-The same people who told us Roundup was safe, sonar never hurt anything,  took a chance that the atomic bomb wouldn’t ignite the whole atmosphere (and got lucky), and proudly gave us whole body spray deodorant , Pringles and electric air fresheners, now want us to believe we are changing the climate. Why should anyone believe them this time?
-We cannot establish the ultimate morality or rationality of any given position. We can only point to the consequences. 
-The Israelites had no luck convincing the ancient Egyptians there was only one god. Protestants and Catholics are still mutually exclusive in their beliefs in the same god. Buddhism split 23 centuries ago and still has not reconciled. So why does anyone think deniers and environmentalists can ever come together? 
-Polluters are like cigarette smokers who claim their right to smoke, to foul the air, to become sick and rely on health services to keep themselves going. As a society, we must choose whether or not to ban polluters. We have the long, unfortunate precedent of smokers to work with.
-Nature suffers in silence. 
-There is bizarre artificiality in the legal system that has seen people sue on behalf of animals, rivers and totally inanimate objects to have person rights in order to have standing in court. Otherwise, no one could speak for nature.

Gottlieb gets tied up in definitions, of course. What is nature, what is Man, what is their relationship, why does nature merit separate consideration from Man when nothing else on Earth works that way? It is the nature of philosophy to micromanage the conversation, and is a necessary evil to get to the arguments. There is also too much religion, which doesn’t really have the firepower to stay in this argument. But religion is really foundational in philosophy, and Gottlieb can’t just ignore it.

He eventually admits he is an environmentalist, and dismisses some of the arguments of the deniers himself, but for the most part, he is even-handed, until the end of the book and a dystopian future.

The problem is massively complex, so most arguments don’t do the subject justice, and most people can’t get their heads around the immensity of it. The book is thorough and engaging and admits to this condition. But it doesn’t go the full length of the crisis. What if it is too late, as many think, and climate change is going to run its course, no matter what we belatedly decide? How does that affect the morality? How will the arguments shift and what positions will arguers take? After this exhaustive examination, maybe that’s too much to ask.

David Wineberg
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