Why? Because it dives right into one of the most profound aspects of climate change...that most of us have not begun thinking about.
What does it mean to assert that climate change is a moral and ethical issue? Turns out, it means everything.
Says Brown, "if the world took climate change as a moral issue, it would radically change the way this is being negotiated."
"Countries that have caused problems would have to admit that they have a responsibility to pay for damages. Countries would have to immediately admit that they have to reduce their emissions to their fare share of safe global emissions."
This is no shrinking violet philosopher-type. Brown represented the Clinton administration as a climate negotiator at the UN Comission on Sustainable Development.
Brown returned to CSD on Monday at a session on ethics organized by the Baha`i faith. Brown was summarizing a white paper from the Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions created by the Rock Ethics Institute created (at Penn State, where Brown works), which is working on this issue with 17 institutions around the world.
Says Brown, "not only is the steepness of the cuts that we need so urgent, but a lot of the moral and ethical issues are hidden in scientific and economic arguments about climate change."
Accordingly, says Brown, "we need to think through multilateral institutions and how we make international law".
In just a few minutes, Brown ticks off a whole host of ethical issues, including:
- What is the target limit? How much warming should we tolerate?
- Who gets to use the atmosphere as a sink? Should each country get equal per capita shares? If we go from 7 to 20 billion tons of emission (as some scenarios anticipate), or 7 to 2.5 Billion tons (with dramatic reductions) over next 30 years, who gets which share of the increase or decrease?
- Who pays for damages to the atmosphere?
- Are continuing damage actions criminal, now that we have achieved virtual scientific certainty about human influences on climate?
- Cost to whom? Is it immoral for the US to say mitigation is too costly?
- Should all countries act together? Is it immoral for the US to wait until everyone else acts, too?
- Should we gamble and wait for some saving technology? Do the world's poor get a say in which gamble we will take?
In closing, Brown cites a 1999 essay by Bill McKibben entitled “Indifferent to Planet Pain”. Said McKibben:
“I used to wonder why my parents’ generation had been so blind to the wrongness of segregation; they were people of good conscience, so why had inertia ruled so long? Now I think I understand better. It took the emotional shock of seeing police dogs rip the flesh of protestors for white people to really understand the day-to-day corrosiveness of Jim Crowe. We need that same gut understanding of our environmental situation if we are to take the giant steps we must take soon.”
Says Brown, McKibben's parents "did not 'get' civil rights until they saw the dogs on the bridge at Selma. It's all of our duties to help people see the moral and ethical dimensions of this problem."
What are the dogs on the bridge today?