Pollution as an Ethical Issue

Pollution as an Ethical Issue

Pollution as an Ethical Issue


Pollution entails emission of toxic compounds into the environment. Air pollution is the discharge of toxic gaseous compounds into the atmosphere. Air pollutants are comprised mainly of carbonaceous compounds such smoke from cigars, chimneys, and smoke stacks in industrial settings. Air pollutants contain biological molecules or particulates which pose the danger of diseases and long-term health complications to humans, animals, and plants. This paper focuses on the effects of pollution and explores ethical aspects of pollution.

According to McLean , the main agents of air pollution are commercial industries with large scale applications of fossil fuels. Industrial air pollution is responsible for the emission tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere annually. Other minor sources of air pollution such as vehicle exhausts, burning of bio-fuels in third world countries contribute a smaller percentage in pollution. The parties involved in air pollution include the victims of air pollution, the cause of the pollution, and the controlling authorities such as environmentalists and global environmental protection bodies and lobbyists.

The two sides, polluters and controllers, are pitted against each other over the reduction of emissions. The main concern of the private industrialists is cost considerations in the adoption of environmentally friendly methods of production while the proponents of pollution free environment are focused on pollution reduction at the expense of the industrialists.

The ethical issue in pollution concerns the question of who should bear the cost of pollution, the contributors to emission or the public, who are the victims (Warner OFM and DeCosse). The ethical thing to do here is for the industrialists to bear the cost of pollution as an external cost in their production process. But often, industrialists conceal their emission data or make their emissions undetectable or untraceable. This is because private investors are only concerned about their profits and don’t care about the negative side effects of their production activities. As a result, the industrialists continue to profit due to unchecked emissions at the expense of the environment and the general health of the public.


Pollution is a major challenge in the modern world. Industrial air pollution is easy to contain and regulate due its high concentration. The minor emission contributors are difficult to control because they are sparsely distributed and difficult to clamp down on. The percentage of emissions from the minor emission contributors are almost negligent and are controlled by local government’s regulations such as setting up of smoking zones (The Ethics of Pollution Control). Major regulatory approaches are targeted towards big industries. A number of industrial emission reduction measures are available. These include adoption of less polluting production methods or practices, change in raw materials used, application of improved maintenance procedures, use of improved air pollution control equipment such as scrubbers, and improving energy efficiency through change of production processes (Hauerwas).

Adoption of the stated pollution reduction measures is accompanied by cost implications. A company guided by an economic rationale will weigh the costs of implementing the measures which are reflected directly in its balance sheet, against the public gains of the environment for which it receives no direct returns apart from a public goodwill. Decision makers in the industry will find it difficult to approve measures that add to their cost of operation for the good of the environment. The fact that the environmental gains amassed due emission reduction are not quantifiable makes the situation more difficult.

Ethical environment practices demand that industrialists are responsible for their emissions, and they should bear the external pollution costs. It is expected that the producers care about their consumers and should not value financial gain over the general well being of the environment and the public who are their market. The industrialists are expected to balance profitability and environment protection.



Environmentalists propose that companies should bear the costs of pollution reduction measures in their production processes (Business and its External Exchanges). Their reasoning is that the industrialists, who are essentially human, will be guided by their moral conscious to protect the environment. Their assumption is that nobody, who has the opportunity to do a good deed that would safeguard the lives of future generations will pass that on (Rachels’). That environmental protection is the right thing to do and is worth doing because it would save the planet the effects of pollution which would affect the environment.

Moral judgment is expected to guide the producers to protect the environment. Given the negative effects of global warming such melting of polar ice, rise in ocean levels and the encroachment of life at ice habitats by sea water, the industrial policy makers will see the need to adopt the needed changes. Emissions pose the potential dangers of respiratory and skin diseases due to increases toxic substances and depletion of the ozone layer. The environmentalists view is that financial gain should not be valued more than the lives of humans. Industrialists should not risk the health of others in order to preserve their gains. The authorities responsible should also not let them get away with it. They should be held accountable for their actions. Proper investments should be made to mitigate the effects of their emissions.

Impartiality has been observed by the environmentalists. While it is reasonable t hold producers responsible for their actions, it would also be against the common good to cripple them with hefty emission levies. It is the industrialists who create jobs and drive economies, pushing them out of operation by overtaxing them would work against the initial goal which is to protect the public. Higher taxes would also be reflected in terms of high consumer prices and an imminent inflation. A jobless community and spiking inflation would not be beneficial to both the industrialists and the public.

In their bid to protect the environment, the environmental lobbyists have tempered their ambitions with reasonable economic rationale. Guidelines have been set to curb emissions by imposing reasonable levies on emissions and making emission reduction a matter of policy. Taxes levied are forwarded to industries and individuals who have adopted emission reduction measures such as the use of green energy in the form of carbon credits. This mechanism balances costs and benefits of emission reduction (Hauerwas).

The industrialists cause the actual emissions which pollute the environment. They acknowledge that their activities harm the environment through the discharge of pollutants into the atmosphere. Their position on the control of emissions is that it is an unfortunate situation which cannot be avoided. Their reasoning is that the use of fossil fuels is inevitable as clean energy use is not feasible or sustainable in the production process. This is true given the prohibitive costs of renewable energy sources such as solar energy and its intermittent nature. The industrialists also feel that they are an integral part of the economy and that their input should be valued.

The industrialists have a moral sense because they have acknowledged the side effects of their production operations. They have sacrificed part of their profits and channeled them to emission reduction measures and mitigating effects of their emissions. Companies with large emission volumes such as oil refineries reduce their emissions by treating them before discharge. A common practice is “scrubbing” and combustion of toxic gasses to an inert and less dangerous form (Dahl).

The industrialists have adopted a reasonable approach in mitigating the effects of their emissions. They have weighed the internal and external costs involved and have decided to assume considerable emission reduction costs. Industrialists have deemed the environment and the health of the public important and sacrificed considerable resources for their protection.


According to Rachels’ concept of morality, good conduct must be guided by three basic principles:  reason, impartiality, and morality. Morality demands that every action must be warranted by the best reason. A decision is considered moral through consideration of available options, and the action is considered right if supported by good reasons.

Impartiality is regarding opposing sides of an argument with equal weight and consideration. Morality demands impartial treatment of conflicting interests and the critical scrutiny of each. Morality is intertwined with partiality. A moral decision requires impartial scrutiny of available options.  A moral agent is one who can be considered as impartial, scrutinizes principles, obeys reason even if it opposes his believes, ascertains facts, and forms an opinion based on deliberation.

Both decisions in the two arguments are sound and ethical. The environmentalists in their course to protect the environment are impartial. They desire a pollution free environment but also consider the implications of banning the use of fossil fuels in industries. They weigh the available options; either have a clean environment and no functional economy or impose scalable levies based on emission volumes to mitigate effects of the emissions. The first option is very attractive for the environmentalists but they applied appropriate reasoning and impartiality to come up with a compromise that would serve the two sides well. The environmentalists also considered the possible harm to the economy, a factor beyond their scope in their decision-making process.

The industrialists were faced with two options, either to pay maximum levies for their emissions or mitigate their emissions by adopting emission reducing measures. Regardless of the cost of each option, they opted for a solution that would mitigate the effects of their emissions. Producers adopted energy efficient methods of production and treatment of flue gases before discharge. This meant considerable investments on their part even though they could have opted to pay the levies directly. This shows impartiality and morally guided reasoning.

Both of the environmentalists and the industrialists compromised on their best interests for the common good. The environmentalists lowered their ambitions for a hundred per cent clean environment, and the industrialists chose to sacrifice a portion of their profits for environmental gains.


My opinion is that the environmentalists and acting authorities were right on imposing emission levies on industrialists. It is not fair for them to profit at the expense of the environment and the bigger population. They should be made to assume responsibility for their actions. The industrialists are also right in accepting to minimize emissions. They have a moral responsibility to conduct their activities in a manner that do not harm the environment or human life.

Both parties concerned did not act selfishly but compromised to ensure a sustainable solution that worked for all concerned parties. This indicates reasoning tempered with impartiality and morality. The environmentalist had to factor in the economy while the industrialists considered the environment that was not directly profitable to them.


The issue of emission reduction is important as it concerns the environment in which we live in and the lives of future generation. Everybody has a responsibility to safeguard the environment. Environmentalists act as watchdogs to protect the environment from private exploitation by private agents in a negative manner. Industrialists are also important because they create jobs and inject cash flow into the economy. Many households depend on income from jobs created by private industrialists. This shows that both of these two parties play an important role in ensuring the well being humans.

The arguments considered herein are cogent and sound. Environmentalists establish that industrialization is the main contributor to air pollution and wants the culprits, the industrialists, to assume responsibility. The industrialists realize that their activities harm the environment but also identify with the fact that stopping the use of fossil fuels would cripple their operations. Both parties agree to compromise and come up with a model whereby pollution is reduced considerably at a cost borne by the industrialists.

My opinion is that the decision taken by both parties was the right one as it ensured a clean environment and retention of jobs. It is not possible to have one and do without the other. The compromise assumed by both parties was the best decision given the prevailing factors.


Works Cited

Cláudia, Ferreira. Socio-Economic and Ethical Issues in Pollution: Individual or Social             Responsibility? Analysis of Textbooks From 16 Countries. N.p. 2014. Web 9 Dec 2014.

Dahl, Arthur. Air Pollution – An Ethical Perspective. International  Environment Forum, 2014. Web 9 Dec 2014.

Hauerwas, Stanley. The Ethics of Population and Pollution. The Cresset, 2014.  Web 9 Dec      2014.

McLean , Sandra. Pollution studies get personal, raising ethical issues. National Association of             Science Writers home, 2011. Web 9 Dec 2014.

Rachels’, James. What is Morality? Cases, Principles to Consider and the Minimum Conception of Morality . n.p. 2014.  Web 9 Dec       2014.

Slideshare. Business and its External Exchanges: Ethics and the environment. LinkedIn             Corporation, 2014. Web 9 Dec 2014.

Warner OFM, Keith Douglass and DeCosse, David.  Using Ethical Principles in Moral             Reasoning About the Environment. Markula Center for Applied Ethics, 2014. Web 9 Dec      2014.

Zeepidiaa.com. The Ethics of Pollution Control. Business Ethics. n.p., 2014. Web 9 Dec 2014.


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