In our Ethics class session on Saturday (2/11) we moved in to our socratic seminar configuration to discuss the “Rain Forest for Ranson” article (TIME, Feb 6, 2012). The article was very interesting in that the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa presented the global community with a proposition: help us preserve the Yasuni National Park−a uniquely rich wildlife ecosystem considered the most bio-diverse spot on the earth and located on the fringes of Amazon basin−or we destroy it by allowing oil companies to drill and develop the rich oil reserves it possesses. On the surface, the President’s proposition would seem like “environmental blackmail”, as others have alluded to. But taking a double-loop approach to this situation, we see that there is more to it than that.
Reading more of the article, you find that this national park reserve is also home to one of Ecuador’s poorest areas in the country, with a third of the population living below poverty. They are in need of financial resources, and although the oil drilling will more than take care of their financial needs, it would destroy this precious and largely underdeveloped ecosystem. So, instead of making the decision to drill, President Correa is appealing to the international community for help. He is asking the international community to donate about half the money ($3.6 billion) to his country to avoid the drilling option; this shifts the onus of responsibility to the international community.
During the socratic group discussion the class was asked to approach this ethical dilemma through the lens of Utilitarianism−do the greatest good to the greatest number of people. One would think that saving the forest for research (the greatest good) may benefit the international community (the greatest number of people); however, I beg to differ, because we don’t know if continued preservation and research done in Yasuni (this mecca of ecosystems) would benefit the international community in any way. And, if so, how long would the benefit of this research take? We simply don’t know the answers these questions. So, at this moment in time, the greatest good would be to develop the enriched oil reserves to bring immediate financial relief to the poor people in Ecuador, the greatest number of people.