2008 – National 2nd Place Award Winner:
Daniel Leef, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Is global warming the greatest challenge facing humankind?
A key philosophical question is always "what is the right thing to do?" People have to think about that in their everyday lives and mankind must also think about it when we set our priorities.
Is our most important challenge global warming? To decide this question, we need to have a philosophical guideline. That guideline should be that our highest priority must be to do whatever will lead to the greatest overall benefit for humanity. John Stuart Mill taught in his philosophy of utilitarianism that the right action to take is the one that does the most overall good. As Mill said, "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness."
Using Mill's utilitarian philosophy as our guide, I do not believe that global warming is our greatest challenge at the moment. Disease causes immediate death and suffering for many of our fellow humans. Conquering pandemic disease is the greatest challenge of our time and thankfully medical and technological advances allow for us to achieve that goal. We can do immediate and verifiable good by putting our efforts toward the reduction and elimination of disease. Although global warming may well have harmful effects in the future, the solutions that have been proposed are very costly and there are still doubts about their effectiveness. I believe that fairness commands us to put out the existing fires first and for much of the poor and sick people of the world, not nearly enough is being done to help them.
In contrast, pandemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and others are causing suffering and death to millions of people right now. We have the ability to greatly reduce that suffering and death. The greatest good for the greatest number would come from the conquering of these diseases.
A panel of experts carefully examined different courses of action that we could take in order to stop the spread of these pandemics and their conclusion was that the most effective thing we could do would be to attack the spread of HIV/AIDS. Some estimates are that for a cost of $27 billion that we could prevent around 28 million causes of the HIV/AIDS and malaria. By providing insecticide-treated mosquito netting to poor people in countries where malaria is raging, more than 60 million children could be protected against it. These are tangible and immediate steps that we could take that would have immediate results.
These diseases kill many people and drain the energy from those who don't die from them. That keeps them in desperate poverty. If we attack disease, we can rescue a huge number of people and enable them to live longer, more comfortable lives.
John Stuart Mill wrote, "Poverty and disease, moreover, are conquerable and every intelligent and generous mind will find happiness in playing a part in their conquest." Our world is gifted with a population of intelligent and generous people. To face and solve the pandemic diseases of the world's poor will further enrich all of us.
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