Gulf Oil Spill Ethics


BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: With spilled oil now reaching all the Gulf States, the White House this week demanded more answers from BP about its cleanup efforts. Meanwhile, a prominent ethicist is calling for a much deeper national discussion about the moral implications of the spill. Kim Lawton reports.

PROFESSOR PAUL ROOT WOLPE (Director, Emory University Center for Ethics): It’s an ecological tragedy, it’s an economic tragedy, it’s a political tragedy, and it’s an ethical tragedy. Given that that is the case, what is the ethical response?

KIM LAWTON, correspondent: Paul Root Wolpe directs Emory University’s Center for Ethics. He says because American dependence on oil is partly responsible for the crisis, it needs to be addressed in the responses as well.

WOLPE: One basic ethical issue is, as we criticize BP or as we criticize other responses to this, we have to look to ourselves and ask ourselves what are our contributions to this crisis? The second issue is how are we going to balance our dedication to the environment to our need for comfort?

LAWTON: Wolpe says scenes from the Gulf should force Americans to seriously reconsider their use of oil and the need to make greater lifestyle sacrifices—also, he says, to seek other sources of energy. But Wolpe says that conversation is not taking place on a broad enough scale.

WOLPE: The responses have been primarily economic and political, and they’re very important. But that economic and political response has to be tempered by a question of what are the values we are pursuing in those responses? That’s where ethics comes in. Ethics precedes your economic and political judgments, because it clarifies the values by which you should make those decisions.

LAWTON: And without that discussion, he says tragedies like the Gulf disaster will continue to happen.

I’m Kim Lawton reporting.