Climate ethics and uncertainty


in Politics, Science, The environment

Climate Ethics has a thoughtful post up about climate change, scientific uncertainty, and ethics. While not particularly novel, the arguments are well and concisely expressed. Key among them is the basic ethical point Henry Shue has made about revolvers and the heads of others: even if you only have one bullet chambered, pulling the trigger is still an immoral act. It is the possibility of severe harm, rather than the probability of the harmful outcome, that is most ethically relevant.

The uncertainties of climate change are primarily about how bad it will get how quickly, as well as how quickly we need to act to stop it. There is also very strong consensus that the climate can change in ways that would be disastrous for humanity and that present activities materially contribute to the risk of that taking place.

On ethical grounds, it does not seem as though there are any remaining arguments for total inaction in the face of climate change. The question now is the degree to which our moral obligations to future generations compel us to make massive and rapid changes in our lives.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan May 27, 2008 at 12:20 am

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Climate ethics principles
Friday, November 9th, 2007

Climate change and responsible global citizenship
Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

. November 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm

On Morality in the Face of Catastrophe

There’s so much of Everything
that Nothing is quite well concealed
—Wislawa Szymborska

This essay emerges from a hybrid of pessimism and hope, but most of all from realism, because no matter how difficult the future that climate change is leading us into, most of us will likely be alive for several decades, and we have to find ways to both live in the world and look at ourselves in the mirror. As Szymborska notes in her poem, there’s an unequal relationship between the “everything” of what’s easily apparent and the “nothing” of what’s hidden, distorted, or resident somewhere other than the immediate present. It has never been more important that we see past the trials and joys of our daily lives to understand both what’s already occurring, and what’s yet to come.

As is probably obvious, this is directed at those who know that man-made climate change is real, and is the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced.

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