Climate Ethics: Essential Readings

Climate Ethics: Essential Readings

Climate Ethics: Essential Readings

Climate Ethics: Essential Readings

Synopsis

This collection gathers a set of seminal papers from the emerging area of ethics and climate change. Topics covered include human rights, international justice, intergenerational ethics, individual responsibility, climate economics, and the ethics of geoengineering. Climate Ethics is intended to serve as a source book for general reference, and for university courses that include a focus on the human dimensions of climate change. It should be of broad interest to all those concerned with global justice, environmental science and policy, and the future of humanity.

Excerpt

Climate change poses a severe challenge to current institutions and ways of life. The idea that this challenge involves ethics is not unfamiliar. In 2006, for example, Al Gore infamously declared that climate change “is not a political issue so much as a moral issue,” and Gordon Brown (now U.K. prime minister) said that “the developed world has a moral duty to tackle climate change.” Still, it remains true that other ways of talking about climate change— especially scientific, economic, and geopolitical ways—dominate the current discussion.

Much might be said about this (see chapters 1 through 4). But surely one reason for the marginalization of ethics is that moving beyond general pronouncements about its relevance poses major challenges of its own, both political and intellectual. The intellectual challenge is formidable, and philosophers have not been particularly swift to meet it. Although some have been writing about climate change since the late 1980s, as of January 2009, the Philosopher's Index listed only about 100 articles under “climate change” and “global warming,” most of them recent. By contrast, there were more than 700 listings for “informed consent” and more than 1,000 for “euthanasia.” Part of the reason for the reluctance of philosophers to enter the discussion is the complexity of the scientific, economic, and legal issues involved (see chapter 1). But there may also be reasons of academic culture. In his book Morality's Progress, Dale Jamieson reports one of his colleagues asking some years ago, “How can you write on something that no one else has written about?” This is a sobering question. Being among the first to enter a new area of philosophical inquiry is daunting. For one thing, one must make difficult decisions about how and where to start and how to divide up the terrain; for another, making these choices turns one into cannon fodder for the next generation and so poses professional risks. (Much better to be the cannon than the fodder.) Still, when the stakes are so high, it is necessary to begin.

With this apologia in mind, this collection brings together what we see as core papers from those foolish (or brave) enough to make a beginning, the first generation of philosophers working on climate change. The aim is to capture much of the best work so far, work that is currently dispersed across two decades and many venues. We hope that this is a service to . . .

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