philosophers wanna know: is warming ethical?

on the ethics of climate change

Suddenly, everyone's talking about ethics and climate change.

Wudja believe an entire conference dedicated to the particular ethical and moral issues raised by the spectre of anthropogenic climate change (via real climate).

Turns out, there is a very interesting and growing literature on the subject.

For openers, check out the papers and commentaries by the philosphers, scientists, and political theorists in attendance.

For example, you can read Gavin Schmidt on the ethics of communicating science, Stephen Gardiner on the moral ramifications of geoengineering, and Jeff Kiehl on the ethical decisions that climate modelers face in conveying model results to the public.

You'll also find Simon Caney considering how future people as well as contemporaries have a right to the protection of core human interests in decent health, economic necessities, and physical security, and Henry Shue on the moral implications of not dealing with climate change.

Says Shue, climate change should be thought of not only in terms of harm, but in terms of potential harm.

Unfortunately for those of us that would like to keep burning fossil fuels at our current rate, Shue argues that uncertainty --- the possibility that harm caused to future generations from anthropogenic climate change will be relatively small -- does not get us out of our moral obligation to change our behavior.

That is, one need only recognize that business as usual will increase the risk of significant harm – a point that almost nobody debates – for it to be clear that business as usual may be unethical.

Paul Baer was also there talking about how one should allocate global warming permits across the world.

The principal objection to the idea that everyone has the right to emit an equal portion of GHGs, is that today's mean value is below that of China's per capita emissions, and thus a straightforward cap and trade at that level is politically impossible.

The new twist in Baer's work is the need to balance the current emission problem with the right of poor countries to develop that "should not be impeded by the requirement to reduce GHG emissions, and that the presumably steep burden of mitigation costs must be shared on the basis of responsibility and capacity".

This of course, shifts more of the burden onto the developed countries who have already benefited from their use of fossil fuels.

It will be interesting to see how that is received at the climate negotiations.

Either way, let's hear it for the philosophers!

Published by Ken on May 16th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking

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