Humanity needs a consensus on a new outlook, a new ethic, to deal with the challenges that we have created for ourselves. The pioneering environmentalist Aldo Leopold 70 years ago called for a "land ethic" to expand our sense of moral community to include mother nature, and we are lagging far behind in doing so. Leopold, like nearly all environmentalists, clearly saw how human beings are connected to and dependent on other animals and organisms in the natural environment, and to the entire biosphere itself, and this was the starting point for his call for a morality that included nature. It is an inspiring vision.
It seems to me, too, that a new ethic will need to be based on greater awareness and recognition of the fact of interconnectedness. Interconnectedness is a basic prerequisite for morality, and perhaps it could reasonably be thought of as the basic prerequisite. A moral relationship between two or more beings presupposes that those beings must first have any sort of relationship at all, i.e. that they interact in some way and affect each other, or put simply, that they are interconnected. The fact of the interconnectedness of all things in our world thus seems to be a good place to start thinking about a new morality, especially since globalization has expanded and intensified that interconnectedness. Of course, we will end up arguing and debating specifically what that means and how to proceed, but if we're looking for a place to begin moral thinking, this seems like a useful place to start, and I hope you agree.
Next, a basic moral goal seems to emerge: if morality presupposes interconnectedness, and if morality is also about determining what is good and bad, right and wrong, then a morality of interconnectedness would be about promoting good, healthy, mutually beneficial relationships between things that interact with and affect each other -- not, say, maximizing utility or some other goal.
Now, saying that interconnectedness is a good place to begin is not to say that it is the absolute foundation or essence of morality -- only that, if we have to start somewhere if we are to proceed at all, this basic prerequisite for morality seems a good place, practically, to do so.
An ethic of interconnectedness seems to me especially apt for our times, given the systems that must be overcome: as Marx and many others have argued, alienation is the main social effect of capitalism, and I would say that that is true of modernity in general. Alienation means a separation of things which should not be set apart from each other: Marx argued that capitalism separated people from their work, from each other, and from their creative powers. Modern or "classical" liberalism takes respect for healthy individuality and ramps it up to a hyper-individualism that socially (and in some ways physically) isolates people from each other, thereby dissolving communities and cultures. And modernity alienates humanity from the natural world too, by setting it up as something to be conquered and exploited, rather than respected and cherished as the source of our lives and of life itself. So it seems to me that an ethic that emphasizes healthy interconnection is just what the doctor ordered for our times.