Kathleen Dean Moore Awtt Portrait

Kathleen Dean Moore

Environmental Philosopher and Activist : b. 1947

“It isn’t enough to love a child and wish her well. It isn’t enough to open my heart to a bird-graced morning. To love is to affirm the absolute worth of what you love and to pledge your life to its thriving – to protect it fiercely and faithfully for all time.”


Distinguished Professor Emerita at Oregon State University

Co-founder of the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word at O.S.U.

Author of numerous books including, most recently, Pine Island Paradox: Making Connections in a Disconnected WorldGreat Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change; and Piano Tide: A Novel

Collaborator with concert pianist Rachelle McCabe on a performance project Climate Action: Music and the Spoken Word 

Environmental philosopher and activist Kathleen Dean Moore made the following succinct point regarding the lackadaisical approach the world generally, and the United States particularly, has been taking to climate change: “It’s wrong to wreck the world.”

Not only is climate change real, but human activity, particularly through the extraction and use of fossil fuels, is the leading driver of that change. Unfortunately, that aforementioned statement continues to be challenged or denied by supporters of the fossil fuel industry. Those challenges and denials and the inertia of some of the largest global corporations have led to policies that seek not only to increase the extraction of fossil fuels, despite the damage this will do, but also to obfuscate or thwart efforts to combat the negative impacts inherent to a changing climate. Reflecting on the process of hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”), Moore wrote: “Fracking is fueling the ubiquity and the hegemony of fossil fuels, a major producer of greenhouse gasses, which are changing forever the conditions under which life on Earth evolved, the conditions under which life on Earth prospered in the green and singing world.”  As Moore noted, “We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy Earth in real time than to renew, restore and sustain it. At present, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it ‘gross domestic product.’”

Moore and many others are waging a moral battle for the environment. As she has said, “Global warming is primarily a moral issue. It’s a result of a moral failure, and it calls for a moral response.”

Born on July 6, 1947, Moore was reared in Berea, Ohio. She earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and French from the College of Wooster in 1969. Moore went on to the University of Colorado, where she completed both a master’s degree and a doctorate of philosophy by 1977.  Moore, who splits her time between homes in Oregon and Alaska, is married to neurobiologist Frank Moore, and they have two children (both of whom are university professors), Erin Moore and Jonathan Moore.

Now Distinguished Professor Emerita at Oregon State University, Moore spent the early part of her academic career studying issues of justice and critical thinking. Her dissertation, which focused on questions regarding pardons, clemency and the roles they play in the administration of justice, was expanded into an academic book, Pardons: Justice, Mercy and the Public Interest. She then became much more focused on issues surrounding environmental justice and climate change. Moore’s 1996 work, Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water, embodied her idea that “[t]o love a person or place is to take responsibility for its well being.” In her work Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World (1999), Moore reflected on the interrelationships of all living things on the planet, and why we should be doing more to honor those relationships. Moore continued with this theme in her work Pine Island Paradox: Making Connections in a Disconnected World (2005). This sensibility, specifically regarding the gift that is the planet Earth, fits with Moore’s point that “[f]ailing to notice a gift dishonors it, and deflects the love of the giver.”

In 2010, Moore, along with her Oregon State colleague Michael P. Nelson, published Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, a collection of essays written by leaders in a diversity of fields who all make the case for doing what is necessary to combat climate change and honor the planet. Moore co-founded the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word at Oregon State. She served as the organization’s director for ten years, and she was named a Spring Fellow. It was in 2013, the same year Moore was named Artist-in-Residence at the Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, that she decided to leave academia and focus her full attention on that moral battle necessary to combat climate change. “We must live according to the principle of a land ethic. The alternative is that we shall not live at all.”

In Great Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change (2016), Moore put forth a clarion call for all people to act to save our planet.  Though there were some efforts made during the Obama administration to address the climate crisis, they were not as comprehensive as the crisis requires. Yet, there was some movement, globally, to begin making changes within an internationally agreed upon framework. However, with the Trump administration, those modest efforts have been abandoned outright. Moore writes, “We’re making it worse. We’re turning our government over, and our regulatory agencies over, to the fossil fuel industry. We are doubling down on destroying any regulations that might stop methane . . . that might stop fossil fuel spills.”  Moore correctly indicts those institutions many people turn to for answers to genuine societal challenges: “[W]e have been utterly failed by the corporate controlled media. We’ve been failed by the federal government. We’ve been failed by corporations who could have found their better selves.”  In the face of those failures, Moore keeps battling on, and in continually innovative ways – ways that she hopes will inspire more people to join her fight.

Moore also explores the role of the arts in environmental activism. Her novel, Piano Tide (2016), centers on the themes of environmental philosophy and justice. She has collaborated with concert pianist Rachelle McCabe to stage a touring musical performance about species extinction titled The Extinction Variations. And her latest book Earth’s Wild Music (2021) is a collection of essays about the music Moore finds in the natural world and how its beauty urges her to act in defense of wild songs and the creatures who sing them.

Moore continues to show the world her warrior spirit, and in her search for tools to protect the planet, she inspires and leads all of us who need to know that we are not alone in our desire to save the Earth.


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