The Moral Costs of Climate ChangeAug 19, 2012
Global climate change confronts us not only with well-known pragmatic challenges, but also with less commonly acknowledged moral challenges.
The topic of climate change is timely and important, but it’s also one that's difficult to talk about. We’re making such a mess of this planet—chopping down forests and burning carbon-based fossil fuels, polluting our air, soil, and water, causing polar ice caps to melt and sea levels to rise. We’re already beginning to see the devastating effects of climate change around the globe, and it’s only going to get worse—especially if we pass the 2 degrees celsius tipping point, which seems inevitable at this point. And despite the fact we've known what the consequences of our actions are for some time now, instead of slowing down, we’ve actually increased the rate at which we burn fossil fuels!
What’s worse, the global community can’t seem to agree on a binding timeline to curb carbon emissions. Just look at what happened at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009. It seems like we humans are hell-bent on making this planet uninhabitable for future generations. The entire picture just fills me with dread.
And yet I think most reasonable people would agree we have a duty to our kids, and to our kids’ kids, to pass on a planet where human life—nay, human flourishing—is still possible. But there’s serious inertia in the system, at both the political and the personal level, which makes the change we need seem almost impossible. There’s obviously some kind of disconnect happening here. We recognize our moral responsibilities on some theoretical level, but when it comes to making actual changes—actually living differently—few are willing to pay the price and make the necessary sacrifices.
Given the direness of the situation and our apparent inertia in the face of impending crisis, is there still hope that we can turn things around at this point? There are major costs associated with changing our way of life and adapting to the new global climate, which raises some critical moral questions: who ought to pay those costs, and how do we distribute the economic burdens in a fair and equitable way?
Somebody has to pay for the shift from a fossil fuel-based economy to something more sustainable, for re-designing infrastructures that make us less vulnerable to severe weather, and for responding to the growing number of climate catastrophes around the world. Historically speaking, it's industrialized nations who've benefited most. So it seems like we're the ones who ought to pay. But so far that hasn’t happened.
The industrialized nations most responsible for climate change are also least affected by it. We in the first world have greater wealth, which allows us to adapt more easily to increasingly severe conditions. Developing nations, who never got to reap the benefits of industrialization, are not only the most vulnerable to climate change but also the least able to pay the costs of adapting.
Which raises a moral dilemma. On the one hand, the first world has caused all this damage and reaped all the benefits, so it would be unfair for us to now demand that the developing world not do what we've already done. If they can’t develop their economies as we have, then how are they supposed to be able to adapt to the changing climate? On the other hand, the planet simply can’t afford for the developing world to burn fossil fuels in the way we have. Morally speaking, it’s just a mess.
Ultimately, I think, we need to rethink our idea of development and flourishing. And not just in the third world—first world countries also have to seriously rethink their economic models that are based on the idea of constant growth, which basically means constant consumption. We’re seeing that that’s simply not a sustainable model. But it’s not clear what can replace it.
So, there’s a lot to talk about in this week’s show. Can we realistically entertain hope for the future in the face of global climate change? What kind of radical transformation is required for the survival of future generations? And what kind of responsibilities do individuals have for ensuring justice for all?
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Monday, August 20, 2012 -- 5:00 PMI don't see the advantage of
I don't see the advantage of treating global warming as a moral issue. Does it mean that the next time the chairman of BP goes to church, the priest can withhold communion from him? If we treat it as a criminal matter, at least we can throw those guys in prison.
Monday, August 20, 2012 -- 5:00 PM3.9 billion years ago, the
3.9 billion years ago, the first undeniable living thing, a protoprokaryote, appeared on Earth. It did all the things living things do. Among them, it ingested water and carbon dioxide and produced oxygen as a waste. That protoprokaryote did not die; it simply regenerated itself by dividing into two cells identical to the original, as did the two cells and their offspring. For the next two billion years, the prokaryotes, and their mutations, that covered the Earth. By then, they had produced so much waste (oxygen) that the original life-forms began to find themselves restricted to ever more remote and diminished regions as their oxygen-breathing mutants began to take over. Today, the original forms are limited to environments such as pond scum and garbage dumps.
The original protoprokaryote was the ancestor of all plants and animals (all of which have a common genetic language). Now it seems humans are going the same route as the prokaryotes. Our survival is put in peril by our own wastes. We may be at, or very near, the pinnacle of evolution. What follows us may be a devolution to a time when the prokayotes, or some mutations, rule the Earth. People cannot adapt to anywhere near the environmental conditions that bacteria can. Sadly, our imminent extinction will demonstrate that we are no brighter but a great deal more fragile than a simple bacterium.
Monday, August 20, 2012 -- 5:00 PMWhat's with the snarky
What's with the snarky "Oakland of all places" comment at the end of the segment about the guy trying to run his coffee shop sustainably? I've lived in Palo Alto and I've lived in Oakland, and believe me, I found a lot more serious and innovative thinking about climate change in Oakland than in P.A. And as to per capita emissions of greenhouse gases, counting consumption, travel, and everything else, I'll bet you and your Stanford colleagues put out about six times as much as the average Oaklander.
Monday, August 20, 2012 -- 5:00 PMClimate Change in my view is
Climate Change in my view is a moral issue.
1. Descriptive Definitions of ?morality?: source :http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/
?Morality? is an unusual word. It is not used very much, at least not without some qualification. People do sometimes talk about Christian morality, Nazi morality, or about the morality of the Greeks, but they seldom talk simply about morality all by itself. Consistent with this way of talking, many anthropologists used to claim that morality, like law, applies only within a society. They claimed that ?morality? refers to that code of conduct that is put forward by a society. However, even in small homogeneous societies that have no written language, distinctions are sometimes made among morality, etiquette, law, and religion. So, even for these anthropologists ?morality? does not often refer to every code of conduct put forward by a society.
Etiquette is sometimes included as a part of morality, but it applies to norms that are considered less serious than the kinds of norms for behavior that are part of morality in the basic sense. Hobbes expresses the standard view when he discusses manners. ?By manners I mean not here decency of behavior, as how one man should salute another, or how a man should wash his mouth or pick his teeth before company, and such other points of small morals, but those qualities of mankind that concern their living together in peace and unity.? (Leviathan, Chapter XI, paragraph 1)
Law or a legal system is distinguished from morality or a moral system by having explicit written rules, penalties, and officials who interpret the laws and apply the penalties. Although there is often considerable overlap in the conduct governed by morality and that governed by law, laws are often evaluated on moral grounds. Moral criticism is often used to support a change in the law. Some have even maintained that the interpretation of law must make use of morality (Dworkin).
Religion differs from morality or a moral system in that it includes stories about events in the past, usually about supernatural beings, that are used to explain or justify the behavior that it prohibits or requires. Sometimes there is no distinction made between a moral code and a code of conduct put forward by a religion, and there is often a considerable overlap in the conduct prohibited or required by religion and that prohibited or required by morality. But religions may prohibit or require more than is prohibited or required by guides to behavior that are explicitly labeled as moral guides, and may allow some behavior that is prohibited by morality. Sometimes morality is regarded as the code of conduct that is put forward by religion, but even when this is not the case, morality is thought by many to need some religious explanation and justification. However, just as with law, some religious practices and precepts are criticized on moral grounds, e.g., discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Morality is only a guide to conduct, whereas religion is always more than this.
When ?morality? is used simply to refer to a code of conduct put forward by any actual group, including a society, whether it is distinguished from etiquette, law, and religion, then it is being used in a descriptive sense. It is also being used in the descriptive sense when it refers to important attitudes of individuals. Just as one can refer to the morality of the Greeks, so one can refer to the morality of a particular person. This descriptive use of ?morality? is now becoming more prominent because of the work of psychologists (Haidt) who have been influenced by the views of David Hume, who tried to present a naturalistic account of moral judgments. In the 20th century, R.M. Hare, in his earlier books (The Language of Morals, Freedom and Reason) regarded moral judgments as those judgments that override all nonmoral judgments and that the person would universalize. This account of moral judgments naturally leads to a view of morality as being concerned with behavior that a person regards as most important and as a guide to conduct that he wants everyone to adopt. All guides to behavior that are normally regarded as moralities involve avoiding and preventing harm to others, but all of them involve other matters as well. Hare's view of morality as that which is most important allows that these other features of morality may be more important than avoiding and preventing harm to others. This view of morality as concerning that which is most important allows those features related to religious practices and precepts, or those features related to customs and traditions, e.g., purity and sanctity, to be more important than avoiding and preventing harm.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012 -- 5:00 PMAstonishing, Arvo. You can
Astonishing, Arvo. You can sum up the history of life on Earth in one paragraph, and confidently predict its likely future as well! Wonderful! Please address what "consciousness" is, in this context, both what it is in a protoprokaryote, and in humans. A big challenge, I know, but that is what we philosophers do for a "living."
Tuesday, August 21, 2012 -- 5:00 PMThe trouble with focusing on
The trouble with focusing on an issue is that it leads to reductionism. Think of the value of something when it gets rarer, it drives extinction (The less there is of something, the more it costs to buy).
Wednesday, August 22, 2012 -- 5:00 PMThings left to grow or stay
Things left to grow or stay the same (be preserved), do so best without too much outside interference. It's like money in the bank. If we leave it there and forget about it, interest grows. Should we keep fixating on what we've got, fear that we might lose it and the desire to spend it, in equal portions, leaps into our heads. Panic and desire leads resources to be squandered, not preserved.
Thursday, August 23, 2012 -- 5:00 PMI sent Arvo's post, along
I sent Arvo's post, along with my reply, to a consciousness expert, and a molecular biologist. Here are their responses:
Jacob: It is a very good assessment of the present, but a subjective view of the future.
Even presuming the worst of environmental collapses, we can presume a 1% survival rate for humanity or 700 mil people give or take. Certainly enough to rebuild given enough time. Even one-tenth of that (70 mil surviors) would give us a better than outside shot of surviving as a species.
Also since we posess the power of abstraction and generalization (which I presume prokaryote do not), I would hope that even a small population of us could segregate themselves, advance technologically and flourish.
My hope is that sooner than later humanity will start to move into Space and hedge our bets, so to speak
I think that the really important issue is to engineer a foundationaly philosophy that encourages collectivism (less waste of resources) while also elevating greater enterprise (progress). My question is can that be done and not run into the pitfalls of things like Confucianism?
Patricia: I wholeheartedly agree with Jacob's expanded perspective on the short article you found. And while procaryotes presumably cannot strategically assess their relative opportunity of survival and propagation, they beat the odds with a number of evolutionarily selected propagation and dispersal strategies and a rate of mutation that is "finely tuned" to stay one step ahead of the changes in environment that bring about a range of genotypes for natural selection to act upon. (The "finely tuned" refers to the error rate at which DNA is replicated. High fidelity is key for perpetuation of the species, while a small number of errors, conservative and non-conservative, is key for generating potentially advantaged mutant offspring, depending on environmental conditions.) While we humans inherited all these abilities from our more "primitive" ancestors, we presumably (but who's to know) are also endowed with the cognitive ability to chart our opportunities of survival. The jury is still out on whether this ability will enhance our survival as a species... Populations of any species go through a stage of exponential growth when environmental conditions are optimal for growth and reproduction. When the population curve reaches saturation, namely when nutrients and resources become the limiting factors, a decline is inevitable and the population shrinks, often dramatically. The survivors happen to be the ones that/who have the genetic propensity for growth in the new or restricted environment. The population goes through a narrow funnel after which it may recover with the newly selected genetic makeup. The human population may well behave similarly, however, because of the slow rate of reproduction may not have the time to generate the requisite genetic diversity to keep up with the rapid rate of environmental change. Further, since the ones among us that are lucky enough to grow up in the developed world are largely not exposed to the typical selection pressures, our evolution may not have 'progressed' much at all vis-à-vis the changing environment. There will be a tipping point, perhaps not too far off, when sharply increased competition for resources will decimate our species. Nothing we can do.
When Curiosity and its successors finds good real estate in outer space - one that suits our genetic and intellectual makeup - we will disperse just like the procaryotes that came before us... And so on.
Friday, August 24, 2012 -- 5:00 PMmirugal, your input has
mirugal, your input has greatly enriched the topic. I tend to concur with Jacob and Patricia that human extinction will not occur in one great dying off; there will be a recovery of sorts, how far it gets depends upon several factors and is a matter of speculation for another time.
You questioned the matter of consciousness in an evolutionary context, and while I am somewhat out of my tree addressing such a topic, I will offer some speculations.
I would guess that the protoprokaryote and its progeny were ruled by natural (physical-chemical) laws of nature, and though they had the means of locomotion, they lacked any of the self-awareness needed for conscious reactions. After the protoprokaryote, the trail of human lineage becomes fuzzy until the appearance of the "roundish flatworm" about 3 billion years later. Though only a thirty-secondth of an inch long, it had animal features such as a gut and a hydrostatic skeletal system. At this point, rather than speculating on the consciousness from this ancestor onward, it seems desirable to condense 900 million years of evolution into 9 months by considering Ernst Haeckel's theory of recapitulation, which holds that the human embryo repeats the entire course of evolution during its nine months of development.
The newly fertilized human egg, or zygote, is actually an immense advance on the lowly race of prokaryotes. Nevertheless, the zygote also begins without awareness of itself, its environment, or of right and wrong. As the brain and nervous system of the embryo develop, the embryo acquires an unconsciousness and perhaps later, still in the womb, scattered glimpses of consciousness. Consciousness develops mostly after birth, in three stages: awareness of self, awareness of environment and awareness of right and wrong (although nothing in nature is quite that orderly and neat). Nevertheless, this is still the way a naive person might address moral issues:
First, how does it affect me?
Second, how does it affect everyone and everything else?
Third, how does it fit in with universal principles and values (or, perhaps, religious ordinances)?
Saturday, August 25, 2012 -- 5:00 PMI think what bothers me about
I think what bothers me about treating climate change as a moral issue is that morality (by definition?) doesn't allow for discussion. If something is taboo, you're just supposed to take that on faith. But a discussion of the causes and possible solutions of the problem is essential. For instance, I'm not particularly big on the idea of saving energy. We don't have an energy shortage, we have an oil shortage. If we design our energy usage right, we and everybody else in the world should be able to waste all the energy we want, the only limiting factor being how much we feel like paying for it. Reasonable people can probably differ on this, but it ought to be a part of the discussion. I suspect that treating it as a moral issue is just a way of shutting down discussion - global warming deniers are just wrong, take it or leave it.
On another issue, I don't buy the idea that we can very easily transplant ourselves to Mars or somewhere should we irretrievably ruin the earth. We have too many parasitic and symbiotic relationships here for that to be practical. Eating, for instance, is parasitism. Breathing depends on a symbiotic relationship with plants - the plants take up the carbon dioxide we breathe out and produce oxygen from it. We couldn't just transplant ourselves to another planet, we'd have to transplant our whole ecology too. As Cole Porter said, it's a lousy world but it's the only world in town.
Monday, August 27, 2012 -- 5:00 PMFred, I have to challenge you
Fred, I have to challenge you on your interpretation of morality. If I understand you correctly, you are taking the "intuitionist" interpretation of morality, which implies as a given (a) the acceptance of an external authority as arbiter of what one may and should properly do and (b) the concept of what the authority requires. But, as Henry Sidgwick of Oxford pointed out just over a century ago, moral decisions are more complicated and people approach them in three different ways (I alluded to them in my previous comments). Besides the paradigmatic requirements of an authority, we would be remiss to overlook the utilitarian interpretation of morality and what Sidgwick called the "egoistic" interpretation (which you actually used in arguing "we and everybody else in the world should be able to waste all the energy we want, the only limiting factor being how much we feel like paying for it"). The utilitarian might object that such an approach does not produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number; the intuitionist might respond that you have completely neglected the influence of such a policy on future generations.
It turns out the that practical morality is extraordinarily amenable to discussion; but raising the question, what kind of discussion? I suggest negotiation is preferable to debate. Debate ends up with a winner and a loser, or else a tie but not necessarily any real progress; negotiation, on the other hand, allows taking the best out of each position to arrive an optimal solution.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012 -- 5:00 PMDictionary.com defines
Dictionary.com defines intuitionism as "the doctrine that moral values and duties can be discerned directly." When Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain, I doubt if he was expecting any debate from intuitionists about them. Intuitionism sounds like a democratized, early 19th century innovation on the subject. And when I said we should all be able to waste all the energy we want, I meant that if we design our energy usage right, so that we use solar, wind, geothermal etc., then we and future generations won't have to worry about global warming.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012 -- 5:00 PMI was using a rather older
I was using a rather older definition of Intuitionism which "regards as the practically ultimate end of moral actions their conformity to certain rules or dictates of Duty unconditionally prescribed." Thus, "discerned directly" means that, to the Intuitionist, actions are right or wrong without consideration of their consequences.
For sure, when Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, he didn't expect debate about them from anyone. That was the point of the whole exercise. That is why the laws of Sumer, the world's first civilization, allegedly came from a Supreme God, and why the laws that Hammurabi presented to Babylon, the world's first empire, also allegedly originated with the Highest God. Because the laws of Sumer, Babylon and Moses allegedly came from a supreme (divine) authority, they were unexceptionable, inviolable, and unalterable. But, even so .....
Consider one of the Ten Commandments, the seventh: "You shall not commit adultery." This commandment was reiterated in elaborated form in Deuteronomy 22:22, which was, from the beginning, understood to apply to all cases in which a married woman had relations with a man other than her husband, including rape under any circumstances. It wasn't long before prominent men realized that it was more convenient to have a troublesome wife raped and stoned to death than it was to go through a messy divorce proceeding. As the bodies of the unfortunate women began to accumulate outside the city gates, such a public protest arose that the rabbis were obliged to revisit their texts, whence they noticed that Deuteronomy 22:22 did not specifically mention rape.Thereupon, they were able to equate the rape of a married woman and that of an engaged virgin. (Deuteronomy 22:23-27) This undoubtedly saved a few married women, though probably not many, since any competent rape-crisis counselor will probably tell you that the laws of Deuteronomy reveal a profound ignorance of the psychology of rape.
On your final point, I am reminded of the environmentalist, Aldo Leopold, who, many decades ago, accused all world leaders, whatever their professed religion, of worshipping at the altar of Technology. It is true that the modern world is sustained by technological progress winning over imminent catastrophe; but, it is a race we must eventually lose. Our only hope is to extricate ourselves from the race and find a rational basis for a moral and sustainable future. (But, I am with you asregards space colonization.)
Thursday, September 6, 2012 -- 5:00 PMWhen we harm the planet we
When we harm the planet we harm ourselves.
It is not so much a question of morality but rather simply and unquestionably a matter of self-abuse.
Harold G. Neuman
Monday, September 10, 2012 -- 5:00 PMI'll make just a few comments
I'll make just a few comments on the foregoing comments. It appears that not much was said about the actual topic of the post: The Moral Costs of Climate Change. Much ado about evolutionary issues, who or what attains consciousness and how much, and similar concerns---but little speculation or opinionation about moral cost(s). The entry from, I think it was Patricia, was interesting to me, because it appeared to support Stephen Jay Gould and company's theorizations vis-a-vis, punctuated equilibrium. I found that interesting. Dr. Gould would be appreciative of this, I imagine. Now, if the ultimate survival (or demise) of homo sapiens satisfies the definition of "moral cost", then I suppose my critique is justifiably lame. But, one-celled, primitive life forms are ancestors, in the words of Dawkins, and do not embody the consciousness necessary to recognize morality---as far as we know.
The reference to Ernst Haeckel was note-worthy. In the minds of some, Haeckel is considered something of a hack. But, I am not a scientist---only an accolyte-so, I do not know all the facts of the matter. In summary, the post generated much lively discourse and was stimulating, to say the least. I could make some other criticisms, but those would betray my own biases, and would, therefore, be unproductive. May all of us keep thinking and discussing important issues. This remains one of the finer blogs, to which I have had the privilege of contributing.
Friday, October 5, 2012 -- 5:00 PMI missed the Eco Conference
I missed the Eco Conference in my town this week. There were other priorities. I also missed seeing Carlos Santana, many years ago. Again, there were other priorities. Life often gets in the way of growth. The next world eco conference will be in France in more years than I care to think about. Oh---well. Life has been fun. E.O. Wilson was here, I am told---sorry I missed him.
Saturday, November 22, 2014 -- 4:00 PMClimate change is most
Climate change is most certainly a social justice issue. People are making huge amounts of money by contributing to the destruction of the planet, and the suffering of those in less fortunate positions. Whether it is more effective to thing of it as a criminal issue or a moral issue is a question in itself - but there is certainly wrong being done.
Why is it such a difficult problem to address? It seems, in some senses, similar to a prisoner's dilemna. Everyone would be best off if we stopped relying on fossil fuels. However, whoever stops loses some economic benefit. It's different in that the sides can communicate. If the actors were rational, I'd thinkt this would lead to addressing the problem. But so far, only nominal action has been taken. Hopefully, nations will work together soon to stop the burning of fossil fuels and other practices that are ruining the Earth.
Saturday, November 22, 2014 -- 4:00 PMCLIMATE CHANGE, WHAT TO DO?
CLIMATE CHANGE, WHAT TO DO?
Such fun to look back on the posts two years ago, and see how things have turned out since.
Babyboomer progressives and liberals spend most of their energies on issues like racism, sexism, gender, homophobia, anti-semitism, and other ?isms that have already been institutionally put to rest. Killing off prejudice will never happen. Mostly because they are motivated by guilt (their own and that which they want to impose on others), and by the greatest human pleasure, moral outrage, and its companion, shows of piety, they keep these isms going (Millennials seem to be free of all this guilt, probably because a global/internet awareness doesn?t support the guilt model).
What the progressives and liberals should be spending their energy on is capitalism, and democracy/capitalism: the real culprits. But, as good progressives have told me, ?we can?t talk about capitalism and democracy if we have any chance at all to win. It won?t sell politically, even to liberals.?
But, as the guest, and Naomi Klein (who gets it), point out, it is too late in the game to do anything about the effects of climate change. But the only hope from here on is that capitalism will die on its own, of necessity, if survival becomes urgent. There are some popular revolutions around that say that there is a total failure of government to address basic needs, but these are put down or ignored until they become violent (the 45 missing students in Mexico, or the very decent needs of our immigrants, or the gift of all our tax money to reward the rip-off artists on Wall Street, or to bomb and destroy other countries, for instance).
The guest asked: ?Who is responsible for addressing the effects of global climate change?? Forget it; responsibility is a non-issue, at this point. Now we finally get to the moral issue: it is ?When you live in a (non-functioning) democracy, and the actions of the society are immoral, what do you do?? It is useless to try to organize, protest, vote, etc. to bring about change, because the options that are solutions are never going to come about.
Capitalism is about ?I want.? Socialism is about ?We need.? (Communism is, classically, about ?This is what you get.?) But in a democracy, those who have been so conditioned to capitalism cannot be good socialists, and will never vote for socialism. The guest made this same point; and he emphasized it saying that Americans are motivated by ?desires formed by habituation.?
Americans can only be forced to do what is required. We cannot transform our society; our only hope is for personal self-transformation. As I have advocated here before, living in an immoral democracy, all one can do is draw a circle around one?s family and friends, and make sure everyone has a warm room, food and water, and gets exercise and is healthy, to the extent that one can help. I have always been resistant to the survivalists because of their focus on armament, but I am now beginning to think a less heavily armed survivalism, with a bigger inclusion circle, might be what we need to think about.
Monday, December 15, 2014 -- 4:00 PMYour blog is really good.
Your blog is really good. Nice to read. Hope it will help to all. Thanks for sharing this. see my blog also
Please visit the website: http://www.herbalremedyinc.com