The Moral Challenge of Dangerous Climate Change

The combination of a recently acquired desktop video magnifier and a kindle has for the time being restored some ease to my reading. Hence this review. I was drawn by the title The Moral Challenge of Dangerous Climate Change: Values, Poverty and Policy, since I can’t see the resistance to energy reform mounted by powerful fossil fuel interests being overcome without some kind of moral determination by a significant portion of the population. I was also attracted by the fact that the author, Darrel Moellendorf is a political and moral philosopher and I was curious to read a philosophical perspective on the climate change issue.

Although the book is intended to be accessible to readers who are not versed in the discipline of philosophy it is no light read. The discussions of the various policy issues it addresses are exhaustive and rigorous. There are no ringing calls, just appeals to humane rationality. But the conclusions are no less compelling for that.

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Uncomfortable parallels

I’ve often been struck by what I see as parallels between the defence of slavery in earlier times and today’s persistence with fossil fuel-based economies. I explored this in a post some time ago but an article in yesterday’s Guardian encourages me to return to the theme. Jean-François Mouhot, a visiting researcher at Georgetown University, writes about similarities between slavery and our current dependence on fossil-fuel-powered machines:

Both perform roughly the same functions in society (doing the hard and dirty work that no one wants to do), both were considered for a long time to be acceptable by the majority and both came to be increasingly challenged as the harm they caused became more visible.

Our revulsion from the institution of slavery today leads us to forget too easily the ordinariness of slave ownership in the past:

To many, slavery seemed normal and indispensable. In the US, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Lifestyles and healthy incomes were predicated upon it, just as we today depend on oil. Similarly, many slave-owners lived with the impression that they were decent people. Continue reading “Uncomfortable parallels”

A Perfect Moral Storm

A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Environmental Ethics & Science Policy Series)Humanity is facing an extreme risk from unabated climate change. The science is widely understood and accepted. Yet we seem paralysed when it comes to reducing the threat: in spite of 20 years of international talk emissions continue to rise alarmingly. The dangerous political inertia which besets us is investigated in Stephen Gardiner’s book A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change. It’s a philosopher’s take on the issue, thorough and elucidatory, yet entirely accessible for general reader — Gardiner even helpfully indicates when a more technical discussion can be safely skipped without losing the thread.

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Crime of the century

Dealing with global warming is difficult, but it shouldn’t be impossible. What we need to do is well understood. Yet a campaign to prevent and delay emissions reductions, which began in the 1980s almost as soon as science began warning there might be a problem, has been so successful that two decades later it seems that substantive action, the sorts of cuts required to leave us with a planet we can recognise, are impossible to put in place.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the people who coordinate and run that campaign are morally and ethically bankrupt (I’m being polite), but are they also criminally liable for the damage their actions will undoubtedly cause? Donald Brown, Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law at Penn State University, discusses the issue in a recent article: A New Kind of Crime Against Humanity?: The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Disinformation Campaign On Climate Change. Brown points out that the issue is much more than just a matter of science, it has moral and ethical dimensions:

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