all slaves? How well do we accept the plea of a woman living in Nazi
Germany that she cooperated with the system of extermination because
she did not have the power on her own to bring it to an end? If we are not
likely to let such people off the hook, we must believe that people should
do justice whatever the odds, even in the face of impoverishment, pun-
ishment, or death. Since living in an environmentally responsible fash-
ion would provoke no such threat against us today, we have even fewer
excuses; our criteria in those other cases make our judgment about our
current behavior quite clear.
We may hesitate to go further than we already do because we are not
convinced it is necessary or all that helpful to do so. We might conclude,
for example, that statistically speaking, our personal actions will have
only a miniscule effect on the overall situation. But even if such action
may be statistically insignificant, it is still necessary. Our ordinary moral
compass tells us as much. If one of us kills someone we hate, statistically
speaking we would have reduced the human population by an almost
infinitesimal amount. Similarly, if we break into someone's home to steal
an object we coveted, we do virtually nothing to harm the gross national
product. Yet we refuse to commit such actions for good reason. The same
applies to environmental ethics: it's silly to imagine that driving a gas-
guzzling vehicle is acceptable simply because that machine is only one of
millions on the road. If we're destroying the biosphere, we're destroying
it—and statistics is no excuse.
Other factors may enter into our thinking as well. Even if collective
efforts to change our societies are weak or tardy, individual action can
still make at least a minimal difference. For one thing, it will help realize,
if only on a small scale, some aspect of the society we are demanding.
For another, it will relieve us of a certain kind of hypocrisy, helping us
close the gap between what we demand and how we actually live. Finally,
if enough of us act, and encourage others to do so, together we may build
momentum for a much more widespread transformation.
Such considerations may already motivate us to do a great deal.
Already millions have learned that we should use renewable energy in
place of fossil fuels, rely on energy-efficient forms of transportation, save
energy in our households, consume less, reuse and recycle as much as we
can, buy local and organic food, and compost our waste. Over the past