Gardiner on climate ethics and moral corruption

2012-09-05

in Books and literature, Politics, Psychology, The environment

In A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change, Stephen Gardiner addresses the argument that a green energy revolution could be an exciting opportunity that benefits the lives of those who are alive today as well as those in future generations.

He characterizes this perspective as potentially interesting empirically, but largely unimportant ethically. It would be good if we could solve climate change while benefitting ourselves, but we have a moral obligation to address it even if doing so requires sacrificing things that we value in our own lives.

Generally speaking, Gardiner’s strongest point is that we are strongly psychologically disinclined to take responsibility for our contribution or to do anything about it. Because we have an intense desire to persist in climate-altering behaviours, we are willing to accept logically weak arguments for why we ought not to do anything, why we have already done enough, why the problem will solve itself, etc. He refers to this as “moral corruption”. In my experience, this self-justifying and self-deceptive behaviour is especially evident when people try to justify activities that (a) contribute very substantially to their personal carbon footprint, and which are (b) basically entirely voluntary and recreational.

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. August 18, 2013 at 4:30 pm

We Need a War on Coal
It’s wrong for affluent Westerners to inflict the damages of climate change on the world’s poor.

By Peter Singer

One thing is clear: If we are wish not to be totally reckless with our planet’s climate, we cannot burn all the coal, oil, and natural gas that we have already located. About 80 percent of it—especially the coal, which emits the most CO2 when burned—will have to stay in the ground.

In these circumstances, to develop new coal projects is unethical, and to invest in them is to be complicit in this unethical activity. While this applies, to some extent, to all fossil fuels, the best way to begin to change our behavior is by reducing coal consumption. Replacing coal with natural gas does reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, even if natural gas itself is not sustainable in the long term. Right now, ending investment in the coal industry is the right thing to do.

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