Life Boat Ethics Revisited: What Should Be the Reaction to the Maldives Crisis
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The climate change crisis and exponential population growth have now reached a point where thinking about the unthinkable cannot be postponed. Over 30 years ago, Garrett Hardin used a lifeboat metaphor to describe the consequences of unlimited growth on a finite planet. He proposed the situation of a lifeboat in the ocean with 50 people aboard and room for only 10 more. The lifeboat is surrounded by 100 swimmers. Hardin discussed the ethics of whether and under what circumstances the swimmers in distress should be taken aboard. The Maldives crisis is a current case illistrating Hardin's metaphor. The President of Maldives has declared his search for a new homeland for Maldivians somewhere else in the world because their homeland is in peril from rising ocean levels and increased ferocity of storm surges. The small island nation of Tuvalu, with a population of less than 12,000 peopole, is already being evacuated for the same reasons. The Maldives, however, has a population of 396,334 (July 2009 estimate), so relocation is a much greater problem than for Tuvalu. Which nations should accept such ecorefugees and under what circumstances? Ocean levels are rising because the anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions of the entire world have caused the problem, but the United States and China are responsible for approximately half the anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. What is the United States and China's ethical responsibility? What, if any, is the obligation of the host, receiving country? What should be done about people who refuse to leave their homeland?