World Ethics and Climate Change: From International to Global Justice

By Paul G. Harris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE

Industrialisation, traditional economic development and modern lifestyles are contributing to pollution that is warming the globe. This global warming is in turn causing changes to the Earth’s climate system that are increasingly impacting on individuals and societies, especially in the poorest parts of the world. Tragically and unjustly, climate change will cause the most suffering among those least responsible for it. While most wealthy countries and people will be able to cope with climate change, at least for now, millions – and probably billions – of the world’s poor will not be so lucky. They will not be able to avoid suffering from droughts, floods, severe cyclones, water shortages, crop failures and spreading pestilence. Historically, people in the world’s affluent countries have been the main polluters of the atmosphere, often as a consequence of voluntary, and frequently frivolous, material consumption. Now the rapidly expanding middle and wealthy classes of the developing world are starting to do the same, with predictable harmful consequences for the environment. Thus climate change not only presents major practical challenges for individuals, societies and governments, but also raises the most profound questions of international and global justice yet encountered in human history.

This chapter establishes the scientific basis for discussions of these justice-related questions in subsequent chapters. I briefly introduce the causes of climate change before summarising some of the significant challenges that it presents for the world, now and in the future.

CAUSES OF CLIMATE CHANGE

In general terms, ‘climate change’ refers to changes in the Earth’s climate resulting from global warming.1 Human-induced global warming is caused by the build-upof greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and ecosystem. Greenhouse gas pollution results from human activities,

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