The Ethics of Climate Change

I recently read a book called The Ethics of Climate Change by James Garvey, who is a philosopher. Rather than go into any details of the book, I just want to recommend it as a fast, interesting read. It probably won't change your perspectives on climate change (well, maybe if you happen to be on the fence about the science), but it will provide a new voice to the conversation about the human response to the changing climate. It was refreshing to have a philosopher's view of climate change instead of the more typical science journalist or occasional scientist. The book also taught be a little bit about moral philosophy, but it isn't too technical or high-minded; in fact, the tone is quite conversational and readable.

What it seems to come down to is that there are ethical reasons for us to take action on climate change. No surprise, I suppose, but the reasoning in this book is slightly more clear and thought-out than we often get from other sources, even if the basic premises are the same. Garvey also points out that "us" means mostly those of us in industrialized countries that have contributed unevenly to the changing climate compared with most of the world, plus it means both governments and individuals. Much of the book is devoted to investigating reasons not to take action, or to delay action, or to distribute the response evenly among everyone (e.g., the USA and Peru both have to make cuts, or the USA won't). In the end, each of these objections is rejected as ethically wrong... that is, there is a right and wrong thing to do, and we (western governments and individuals) have been, and continue to be, doing the wrong thing. The arguments for the biggest polluters sacrificing more are clear; the arguments that delaying action (directly or indirectly) are clear; the reasons for taking immediate, dramatic action are clear. Garvey leaves little wiggle room for opposing views, and he certainly does not apologize for being one-sided. He argues from one perspective, but with solid reasoning. If this were a true debate, then this work would be quite a challenge to the other side, for an opposing viewpoint would have to show an essentially new argument against action, since the current ones are demolished.

No comments: