Morally intolerable climate change impacts and risks

Sometimes convincing moral arguments take the form: outcome X is unacceptable, and since it arises from behaviour A then behaviour A can no longer be allowed to continue.

This is implicit in many of the hundreds of posts I have written about climate change, but I thought it would be good to have an open thread specifically listing credible impacts and risks associated with climate change which are so severe they compel us to discontinue behaviours that make the problem worse, such as fossil fuel production and development.

For example: Parts of South Asia could be too hot to live in by end of century

That’s a risk so morally intolerable that it torpedoes competing moral arguments, such as the claim that people can legitimately do anything to maintain their financial livelihood, or that political jurisdictions have an unrestricted right to exploit resources in their territories.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

4 thoughts on “Morally intolerable climate change impacts and risks”

  1. Wednesday August 09, 2017

    Experts warn heat waves are the new normal, adaption is key

    The infernal heat wave that has gripped Rome — like much of southern and central Europe right now — has been christened “Lucifer” for the hellish 40 C highs.

    And according to climate scientists the high temperatures could be the new normal.

    Studies suggest in Europe alone, extreme heat will kill 150,000 people a year by 2100. And in South East Asia, if carbon emissions aren’t reduced it may be too hot for people to live in by 2100.

  2. Doesn’t this kind of reasoning fail to account for the collective nature of climate change? No major consequence arises from the choices of one person, company, or even country. Changing the behaviour of just one actor doesn’t change outcomes. Therefore, you could say that no individual behaviour must be curtailed to avoid an unacceptable outcome, even if everyone behaving in the same way would lead to it.

    Alternatively, it seems like this sort of logic leads to absurd and impractical conclusions. If we take every individual action to be on par with the collective consequence of everyone acting, that suggests nobody can use any fossil fuels at all. That’s the sort of absolutist position that people who aren’t convinced of the need to act use to disqualify the reasoning of people demanding change.

  3. Fair enough.

    There is good reason to question the logic linking a big consequence arriving from aggregated behaviours to a moral assertion that each individual person shouldn’t do that thing.

    Still, I think there’s a strong case for saying that the projected severity of climate change morally prohibits us from continuing with business as usual. In particular, we cannot allow new projects that will make the problem worse, such as extreme fossil fuel development projects in countries that already have very high per capita emissions.

    That applies as much to offshore oil in Norway and U.S. tight oil extraction as it does to Canada’s bitumen sands.

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