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One-Dimensional Thinking Never Works Well

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Here’s a letter to the Washington Examiner:

David Sirota identifies a benefit – namely, reduced human impact on the environment – and argues that, therefore, people are morally obliged to take steps to achieve that benefit (“A week of living with low impact on the environment [2],” Aug. 29).  But because he ignores competing benefits, Mr. Sirota’s moralizing fails.  Using the very same method of argument employed by Mr. Sirota, I can ‘prove’ that people should do almost the opposite of what he advocates.

For example, it’s beneficial to help others.  So I argue that we are morally obliged to do more to help others, regardless of the costs (including any resulting impacts on the environment).

We should spend more time working in factories producing furniture, cars, cell phones, and the countless other products that people enjoy.  Because so many Americans enjoy big houses and sprawling lawns, we also should encourage the growth of suburbs so that more people can live in McMansions situated on large grassy lots.  We should quit protecting endangered species that humans don’t consume as food, as protecting such species hurts people by reducing economic output.  And we should certainly avoid Mr. Sirota’s practice of bicycling to work: because travel by bike takes far more time than does travel by car, bicycle commuters thoughtlessly – nay, irresponsibly! – reduce the time they spend working to help others.

Donald J. Boudreaux