We are sailing into a moral storm.
The moral dimensions associated with the Anthropocene has long interested Eli, and to be honest many others on a deeper level. While philosophy is associated with personal responsibility, law concerns itself with assignment of responsibility to others. As our command of the Earth increases, these must come together, and indeed they will on this Friday, May 11 at the University of Chicago, where folks will gather to discuss Climate Change Justice
In their recent book, Climate Change Justice, Eric Posner and David Weisbach argue for a relatively narrow climate treaty that would require nations to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but that would not redistribute wealth, correct for past injustices, or address other issues not immediately connected with the urgent task of mitigating climate change. At this conference, scholars will respond with criticisms of the Posner/Weisbach argument or provide their own views about how a climate treaty ought to be designed. Topics will include the role of distributive and corrective justice in the design of climate treaty, discounting the future, abatement strategies, and the possibilities and limits of international cooperation.Ray Pierrehumbert is one of the presenters, and usefully most of those who are to speak have provided manuscripts, which Eli hopes that the bunnies will look at, here, he wants to discuss the analysis of Yoram Margalioth who summarizes Posner and Weisbach's argument as
(1) The US is not morally required, on distributive justice grounds or on an alleged responsibility for the stock of GHG in the atmosphere due to past emissions, to assume the costs of (or reimburse) other countries that participate in a global climate change mitigation scheme.
(2) Countries differ in their vulnerability to climate change. In the absence of distributive or corrective justice claims, the cost of mitigation should be allocated according to the benefits from mitigation. The US is relatively less vulnerable to climate change than other countries, including many developing countries, and should therefore bear a relatively small share of the cost.
When countries demand that the US bear a significant share of mitigation cost as, for example, was expected of the US under the Kyoto Protocol, they ask the US to become a net loser. International cooperation is voluntary. Countries will not sign treaties that make them net losers, unless they are ethically required to do so and choose to act morally. As claimed in (1) above, the US is not morally required to do so.Ethically, this position is bankrupt for obvious reasons, something that Eli expects Paul Baer to deal with in his talk (no paper yet posted) titled Who Should Pay for Climate Change? “Not Me.” In addition to ethical questions, with respect to the US and the industrially developed countries, the practical answer is who else has the resources? But here the Bunny is more concerned with an argument advanced by Margalioth
Unlike Posner and Weisbach, I find merit in the argument that there is a moral flaw in the US’s lack of significant action to reduce its relatively high per-capita GHG emissions in the years after it became general knowledge that dangerous climate change was taking place and that it was anthropogenic.he later develops this idea in a discussion of culpability
Until relatively recently, developed countries were not (and could not have been) aware of the effects of GHG emissions, and so should not be held accountable for past emissions.
Setting the cut-off date is an empirical question. It could be 1992, because in that year, nearly all countries, including the US, signed an international treaty – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – “to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”In Eli's opinion this argument confuses guilt, culpability and responsibility in a way can only lead to disaster (Posner and Weisbach are even worse). As Stephen Gardiner pointed out, climate change is a moral storm, not an economic or legal one because of the separation of time and place of cause and effect. Actions taken today will primarily influence the future. The physics of the situation does not concern itself with whether the emitters knew that what they were doing had harmful effects, that is an issue of culpability or guilt, the distinction between involuntary manslaughter and murder as it were, with the former being the case if the emitters recklessly or without reasonable care, and the later with malice and aforethought. In both these cases a retributive response is justified.
Responsibility does not require knowing beforehand knowing that your actions caused harm, but recognizing afterward that it has and accepting responsibility for both the harm as well as working to reverse that harm. Accepting responsibility is a sign of growing up, and with our increasing control of the planet growing up is increasingly becoming a survival trait.
There are levels of denial. The Sky Dragons, who deny that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations will increase global temperatures are denying science in totallity. The lukewarmers, merely deny the conclusions flowing from that science. Margalioth is denying responsiblity, and Posner and Weisbach are denying culpability.
(Picture from Deviant Art)