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An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of August 10, 2003
issued from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA

GRAPE ETHICS

On National Public Radio they are presenting a series of segments on the subject of ethics. On Tuesday they explored the question of how unethical it would be -- if at all -- to steal a single grape in a supermarket. Some people insisted that it wasn't unethical at all while most took ambiguous positions saying that it depended on the circumstances. Only the professional ethicist asserted that taking even one grape was unethical. He further explained that in classical times people based their ethics on what was good or bad for society while today the ever-more-dominant paradigm is "It's OK if I don't get caught."

In my opinion, an eco-ethical equivalent of the pilfering of a grape is the leaving on of lights when they are not needed. That's because we all understand the following connections: Burning lightbulb --> power plant --> burning coal or oil, or nuclear power --> pollution or radiation --> death of plants and animals.

The ethicist on National Public Radio made an elegant point: He said that in classical times people cared about daily ethics not because they hoped to gain material reward from it, but because they felt that by being ethical, even in tiny, grape-stealing ways, it made them and their society stronger.

In this same week when it was announced that Los Angeles's air quality is worsening for the first time in many years, and our president nixed higher fuel-use standards for cars, and continues to encourage suburbanites to buy gas-guzzling SUVs, how good to have someone remind us that the ethical use of a single grape (or a single lightbulb) can have far-reaching consequences for both society and individuals.