Climate change is a global problem that is predominantly an intergenerational conflict, and which takes place in a setting where our ethical impulses are weak. This "perfect moral storm" poses a profound challenge to humanity. This book explains how the "perfect storm" metaphor makes sense of our current malaise, and why a better ethics can help see our way out.
Very few moral philosophers have written on climate change.1 This is puzzling, for several reasons. First, many politicians and policy makers claim that climate change is not only the most serious environmental problem currently facing the world, but also one of the most important international problems per se.2 Second, many of those working in other disciplines describe climate change as fundamentally an ethical issue.3.
The peculiar features of the climate change problem pose substantial obstacles to our ability to make the hard choices necessary to address it. Climate change involves the convergence of a set of global, intergenerational and theoretical problems. This convergence justifies calling it a 'perfect moral storm'. One consequence of this storm is that, even if the other difficult ethical questions surrounding climate change could be answered, we might still find it difficult to act. For the storm makes us extremely vulnerable (...) to moral corruption. (shrink)
“[T]he Precautionary Principle still has neither a commonly accepted definition nor a set of criteria to guide its implementation. “There is”, Freestone … cogently observes, “a certain paradox in the widespread and rapid adoption of the Precautionary Principle”: While it is applauded as a “good thing”, no one is quite sure about what it really means or how it might be..
A critical study of two recent books in climate ethics by Dale Jamieson (Reason in a Dark Time, Oxford 2014), and Darrel Moellendorf (The Moral and Political Challenges of Climate Change, Cambridge 2014).
Climate change and other global environmental problems constitute a significant challenge to contemporary political philosophy, especially with respect to complacency. This paper assesses Rawls? theory, and argues for three conclusions. First, Rawls does not already solve such problems, and simple extensions of his theory are unlikely to do so. This is so despite the rich structure of Rawls? philosophy, and the appeal of some of its parts. Second, the most promising areas for extension ? the circumstances of justice, the duty (...) to maintain and promote just institutions, and his vision of social development ? are those that have not yet been explored. Third, unfortunately, Rawls? views on these topics are both seriously underdeveloped, and largely stipulative. Hence, in trying to meet climate change, Rawlsians are more likely to add new theories to Rawls, and perhaps even to transform his original account, than to generate an approach ?from the inside out? (shrink)
The Royal Society's landmark report on geoengineering is predicated on a particular account of the context and rationale for intentional manipulation of the climate system, and this ethical framework probably explains many of the Society's conclusions. Critical reflection on the report's values is useful for understanding disagreements within and about geoengineering policy, and also for identifying questions for early ethical analysis. Topics discussed include the moral hazard argument, governance, the ethical status of geoengineering under different rationales, the implications of understanding (...) geoengineering as a consequence of wider moral failure, and ethical resistance to invasive interventions in environmental systems. (shrink)
Traditional concern for the gradual, incremental effects of climate change remains; but now greater attention is being paid to the possibility of breaching major thresholds in the climate system with catastrophic consequences. It might be thought that the potential for abrupt climate change (a) undermines the usual (economic, psychological, and intergenerational) analyses of the climate change problem, and (b) in doing so helps us to act. Against this, I argue both that much of the psychological and intergenerational analyses remains in (...) place, and that abrupt climate change may make action more difficult, perhaps even setting off an intergenerational arms race. (shrink)
This paper argues (1) that extortion is a clear threat in intergenerational relations, (2) that the threat is manifest in some existing proposals in climate policy, and (3) that it is latent in some background tendencies in mainstream moral and political philosophy. It focuses on some troubling undercurrents to recent arguments in climate policy and climate ethics for “making the grandchildren pay” for climate action. It also makes the case that intergenerational extortion raises issues about the appropriate limits to the (...) sway of central values such as welfare and distributive justice. (shrink)
The distant future poses a severe moral problem, the nature and extent of which has not yet been adequately appreciated. This paper offers a brief, initial account of this problem and its main features. It also argues (1) that the problem is the main concern of distinctively intergenerational ethics, and (2) that it occurs both in a pure, long-term form manifest across human history and global populations, and also in degenerate forms which apply to shorter time periods and to social (...) institutions. (shrink)
The Carnegie Council's work “is rooted in the premise that the incorporation of ethical concerns into discussions of international affairs will yield more effective policies both in the United States and abroad.” In honor of the Council's centenary, we have been asked to present our views on the ethical and policy issues posed by climate change, focusing on what people need to know that they probably do not already know, and what should be done. In that spirit, this essay argues (...) that climate change poses a profound ethical challenge, that the ongoing evasion of this challenge produces ineffective policy, and, therefore, that a fundamental paradigm shift is needed. More specifically, I maintain that the climate problem is usually misdiagnosed as a traditional tragedy of the commons, that this obscures two deeper and distinctively ethical challenges , and that we should address these challenges head on, by calling for a global constitutional convention focused on future generations. (shrink)
The Carnegie Council's work “is rooted in the premise that the incorporation of ethical concerns into discussions of international affairs will yield more effective policies both in the United States and abroad.” In honor of the Council's centenary, we have been asked to present our views on the ethical and policy issues posed by climate change, focusing on what people need to know that they probably do not already know, and what should be done. In that spirit, this essay argues (...) that climate change poses a profound ethical challenge, that the ongoing evasion of this challenge produces ineffective policy, and, therefore, that a fundamental paradigm shift is needed. More specifically, I maintain that the climate problem is usually misdiagnosed as a traditional tragedy of the commons, that this obscures two deeper and distinctively ethical challenges, and that we should address these challenges head on, by calling for a global constitutional convention focused on future generations. (shrink)
Existing institutions do not seem well-designed to address paradigmatically global, intergenerational and ecological problems, such as climate change. 1 In particular, they tend to crowd out intergenerational concern, and thereby facilitate a “tyranny of the contemporary” in which successive generations exploit the future to their own advantage in morally indefensible ways (albeit perhaps unintentionally). Overcoming such a tyranny will require both accepting responsibility for the future and meeting the institutional gap. I propose that we approach the first in terms of (...) a traditional “delegated responsibility” model of the transmission of individual responsibility to collectives, and the second with a call for a global constitutional convention focused on future generations. In this paper, I develop the delegated responsibility model by suggesting how it leads us to understand both past failures and prospective responsibility. I then briefly defend the call for a global constitutional convention. (shrink)
According to the traditional interpretation, Aristotle’s ethics, and ancient virtue ethics more generally, is fundamentally grounded in self-interest, and so in some sense egoistic. Most contemporary ethical theorists regard egoism as morally repellent, and so dismiss Aristotle’s approach. But recent traditional interpreters have argued that Aristotle’s egoism is not vulnerable to this criticism. Indeed, they claim that Aristotle’s egoism actually accommodates morality. For, they say, Aristotle’s view is that an agent’s best interests are partially constituted by acting morally, so that (...) the virtuous person sees morality as essential to her happiness. (Call this, ‘the Constitutive Thesis’.) In this paper, I argue that the constitutive thesis is unpersuasive, both from a theoretical standpoint and (for similar reasons) as an interpretation of Aristotle. It is unpersuasive because it is much more demanding in both respects than several nonegoist alternatives. My argument builds on an objection originally offered by John McDowell. McDowell claimed (1) that the Constitutive Thesis requires that there are independent standards of self-interest that can be agreed upon in advance by all parties to the dispute, both virtuous and nonvirtuous; and (2) that there are no such standards. I argue that McDowell is mistaken. The orthodox position requires much less than McDowell claims if it makes an appeal to the distinctiveness of the virtuous person’s point of view. However, unfortunately for traditionalists, the price of this point of view defence is high. First, to be even remotely plausible, the revised orthodox view must be almost frighteningly complex. Second, once this complexity is exposed, the orthodox view is much less plausible than its major rivals, in particular those which appeal directly to moral reasons. (shrink)
Contract theories – such as contractarianism and contractualism - seek to justify (and sometimes to explain) moral and political ideals and principles through the notion of “mutually agreeable reciprocity or cooperation between equals” (Darwall 2002). This chapter argues that such theories face fundamental difficulties in the intergenerational setting. Most prominently, the standard understanding of cooperation appears not to apply, and the intergenerational setting brings on a more severe collective action problem than the traditional prisoner’s dilemma. Mainstream contract theorists (such as (...) Gauthier and Rawls) have tried to overcome such difficulties by postulating some kind of chain of connection between generations. However, the chapter maintains that thus far such attempts have proven inadequate. Given this, it seems either that mainstream contract theory needs to be rethought, or that a new, specifically intergenerational, contract theory is needed. (shrink)
Recently, I argued against framing geoengineering—understood here in terms of the paradigm example of stratospheric sulfate injection ('SSI')—as a global public good. My main claim was that this framing is seriously misleading because of its neglect of central ethical concerns. I also suggested that 'global public good' is best understood as an umbrella term covering a cluster of distinct, but interrelated ideas. In an effort to be charitable, I adopted an inclusive approach, considering two general attitudes to the technical definition, (...) six interpretations of the universal benefit claim, three of nonrivalness, and two of nonexcudability. I then argued that SSI as such does not fit the canonical definition, and that the more relaxed versions are unhelpful. Noticing that I agree that SSI is a global public good in one relaxed sense, David Morrow insists that this is the only acceptable interpretation, that describing SSI in this way is useful, and that it becomes misleading only when the concept is misunderstood by "non-economists", and that it is uncharitable to attribute such confusion to those presenting SSI as a global public good. I will suggest that Morrow's markedly exclusive approach is uncharitable, that his relaxed interpretation remains unhelpful, that there are good reasons to respect other uses, and most importantly that the definitional dispute is an unfortunate distraction that leaves my central point about the framing of SSI largely untouched. This discussion reinforces my suggestion that it is time to excise the term 'global public good' from the framing of SSI, and perhaps more generally. (shrink)
In early policy work, climate engineering is often described as a global public good. This paper argues that the paradigm example of geoengineering—stratospheric sulfate injection (hereafter ‘SSI’)—does not fit the canonical technical definition of a global public good, and that more relaxed versions are unhelpful. More importantly, it claims that, regardless of the technicalities, the public good framing is seriously misleading, in part because it arbitrarily marginalizes ethical concerns. Both points suggest that more clarity is needed about the aims of (...) geoengineering policy—and especially governance—and that this requires special attention to ethics. (shrink)
Earthcare: Readings and Cases in Environmental Ethics presents a diverse collection of writings from a variety of authors on environmental ethics, environmental science, and the environmental movement overall. Exploring a broad range of world views, religions and philosophies, David W. Clowney and Patricia Mosto bring together insightful thoughts on the ethical issues arising in various areas of environmental concern.
Stephen Gardiner gets to grips with the Kyoto agreement on climate change — and asks whether our lack of commitment to seriously reducing emissions is down to the fact that the bad consequences of not reducing emissions won't affect us.
The structure of Aristotelian virtue ethics has been misunderstood. Conventional wisdom has it that Aristotle, as indeed all of the major philosophers of ancient Greece, believed that the virtues are reciprocally entailing (RV): a person can have one of the virtues of character if and only if she has them all. But this is false. Instead, Aristotle distinguishes between a set of basic and a set of nonbasic virtues, and claims that only the basic virtues are reciprocally entailing. Furthermore, he (...) believes that, given at least a moderate amount of external goods, the basic virtues are both necessary and sufficient for happiness. The nonbasic virtues are, then, separable from the basic virtues, and unnecessary for happiness, on Aristotle’s view. This insulates Aristotelian virtue ethics from the charge that it demands unreasonable knowledge and resources of agent aiming for happiness. (shrink)
Two questions are central to the ethics of geoengineering. The justificatory question asks ‘Under what future conditions might geoengineering become justified?’, where the conditions to be considered include, for example, the threat to be confronted, the background circumstances, the governance mechanisms, individual protections, compensation provisions, and so on. The contextual question asks ‘What is the ethical context of the push toward geoengineering, and what are its implications?’ Unfortunately, early discussions of geoengineering often marginalize both questions because they tend to focus (...) on arguments from emergency that illegitimately brush them aside. One sign of this is that some emergency arguments are ethically short-sighted, and morally schizophrenic. In this paper, I illustrate this problem by appeal to two abstract examples. Although both are extreme and idealized, even the imperfect analogies provide reasons for concern about our current predicament. Ethically serious discussion of geoengineering should confront such worries, rather than hide behind overly simplistic appeals to moral emergency. As Michael Stocker puts it in his seminal discussion of moral schizophrenia, “to refuse to do so bespeaks a malady of the spirit.” . (shrink)
Over the last twenty years, the idea that climate change – and indeed global environmental change more generally – is fundamentally a moral challenge has become mainstream. But most have supposed that the challenge is one of acting morally, rather than to our morality itself. Dale Jamieson is a notable exception to this trend. From the earliest days of climate ethics, he has argued that successfully addressing the problem will involve a fundamental paradigm shift in ethics. -/- In general, Jamieson (...) believes that our current values evolved relatively recently in “low-population-density and low-technology societies, with seemingly unlimited access to land and other resources,” and so are ill-suited to a globalized world. More specifically, he asserts that these values include as a central component an account of responsibility which “presupposes that harms and their causes are individual, that they can be readily identified, and that they are local in time and space.” But, he claims, global environmental problems such as climate change fit none of these criteria, so that a new value system is needed, one which addresses “fundamental questions” about “how we ought to live, what kinds of societies we want, and how we should relate to nature and other forms of life.” In particular, he declares that there is little hope of success without direct appeal to a hitherto underappreciated “duty of respect for nature.” -/- In my view, Jamieson is right to question the adequacy of conventional ethical thinking for addressing global environmental problems. However, I also contend that the situation with respect to responsibility is less clear cut than he suggests. In this paper, I offer several objections to Jamieson’s main arguments, and propose an alternative, less revisionary, account of our predicament. Nevertheless, I also suggest that much of the spirit of Jamieson’s position remains intact, so that my proposal is more of a “friendly amendment” to his view than an outright rejection of it. According to this amendment, climate change involves a failure of our attempts to delegate responsibility to political institutions charged with acting on our behalf. Such failures are jarring, since they throw many of our normal practices into doubt, and threaten to restore to us demanding social burdens to which we have become largely unaccustomed. This situation need not cast doubt on our basic account of ethical responsibility. Indeed, that account helps to illuminate what is going on. Still, it does imply that we face a large (although somewhat familiar) moral and political challenge. (shrink)
The dissertation puts forwards the theoretical foundations for an alternative to the traditional egoist interpretation of eudaimonism, the ethical theory associated with ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle. The first section builds a case for looking for such an alternative by arguing that the connection between egoism and eudaimonism posited by the traditional view is more complex than usually thought, and so requires more defense than usually thought. The second section suggests a way of generating a nonegoistic account. Characteristic claims (...) the eudaimonist makes about there being a single ultimate end to human action make sense if they are understood in light of what I call our `basic metaphysical position'. This position constitutes the framework within which action occurs for us, and generates rational constraints on the kinds of action we should perform. In particular, it captures a sense in which our position is fundamentally agent-centered. The final section discusses a dilemma faced by this agent-centered eudaimonism which makes its requirements seem excessively demanding. It is suggested that one way to overcome this dilemma emerges from a new reading of Aristotle's theory of the virtues. This strengthens the eudaimonist credentials of agent-centered eudaimonism. (shrink)
In this volume, Stephen M. Gardiner and David A. Weisbach present arguments for and against the relevance of ethics to global climate policy. Gardiner argues that climate change is fundamentally an ethical issue, since it is an early instance of a distinctive challenge to ethical action, and ethical concerns are at the heart of many of the decisions that need to be made. Consequently, climate policy that ignores ethics is at risk of.