The Immorality Of Climate Change
After decades of trying to argue the case for catastrophic human caused climate change, aka global warming, based on its scientific merits, AGW proponents are now shifting their focus to a more abstract argument. Instead of trying to establish a causal relationship between human CO2 emissions and the planet's modest warming trend, the new tactic is to re-brand global warming as a moral dilemma. Because the perceived problem is global in scope and the science so tentative, the result of the debate so far has been distributed blame and inequitable impact on the world's poor. According to a new book, this leads to a kind of moral corruption where we let ourselves be persuaded by weak or deceptive arguments, with disastrous consequences for our ability to act on climate change. Can not acting in response to wild speculation based on incomplete science be immoral? Can actions based on a lie be moral?
In A Perfect Moral Storm, University of Washington philosopher Stephen Gardiner argues that the deepest challenge posed by climate change is an ethical one. The book contends that part of the reason why progress in addressing climate change has been so dismal is that climate change constitutes the confluence of three separate “storms”: the global nature of the problem, its intergenerational timescale on which climate change takes place, and the inadequacy of current theoretical models (note that the models here are in the realm of cost-benefit analysis, not climate modeling). The combination of these elements prevents us from making ethical decisions about climate change. In a draft paper, which appears to have been the basis for the book, the author makes the case for his base argument.
At the most general level, the reason is that we cannot get very far in discussing why climate change is a problem without invoking ethical considerations. If we do not think that our own actions are open to moral assessment, or that various interests (our own, those of our kin and country, those of distant people, future people, animals and nature) matter, then it is hard to see why climate change (or much else) poses a problem. But once we see this, then we appear to need some account of moral responsibility, morally important interests, and what to do about both. And this puts us squarely in the domain of ethics.
Ignoring the use of the now hackneyed term “perfect storm,” Gardiner does make a number of specific points worth considering. For example: climate change does not respect national boundaries, rich countries are loath to pay for high levels of emissions in the past, and poor countries are much more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than the rich. This, of course, is the basis for the expansion of the “victim culture” to an international level, where rich countries are targeted by poor counties with demands for “reparations” for damages that have not yet occurred. It also backs the contention that rich countries who have cleaned up their greenhouse gas emissions are not off the hook for their past actions.
Noting that the temporal scale of climate change causes the most moral detachment, Gardiner states that passing the buck from one generation to the next is the most difficult aspect of climate change ethics. More simply put, because the claimed impact of GHG emissions will only be realized decades if not centuries from today, the easy way out is to just deny the problem. The warmist rebuttal to the do nothing approach is that the cost in the future will be so horrendous that future generations will curse our names forever. But this is not necessarily based on sound analysis either.
In a review of the book by Jeremy Moss, published in the June 17, 2011 issue of Science, Gardiner's critique of such analysis is summarized. Here is Moss' evaluation of Gardiner's guiding principles:
According to Gardiner, not only are our institutions and moral theories unable to cope with the challenge of climate change, many of our general theoretical tools are inadequate as well. Indeed, he proposes that if a theory or institution fails to address a serious global threat, then it should be judged inadequate and must be rejected. Too many theories exhibit the vices of being oblivious to or complicit in problems. Utilitarianism and cost-benefit analysis come in for particular criticism here.
Supposedly, this all leads to a kind of moral corruption where we let ourselves be persuaded by weak or deceptive arguments, with disastrous consequences for our ability to act on climate change. In order to rectify this situation, we must determine how to distribute the impacts of climate change fairly and how to weigh present-day sacrifices against future benefits. This all sounds well and good, but the entire analysis is moot if global warming is fictitious, a figment of over heated scientific imaginations.
If the global warming/climate change/planetary boundaries scare turns out to be just the latest example of bad science being used to manufacture a convenient crisis, what are the ethical ramifications of acting in haste? Is it moral for the current generation to damage global economic growth over a bogus calamity? Is it moral for the dreams and aspirations of the poor to be denied as a precaution? It is astounding how sure climate ethicists are that they are right and all others are wrong. Such moral certitude is only found in philosophers—scientists, at least real scientists, know better.
This is not Gardiner's first publication in the field of climate change ethics. He served as an editor for Climate Ethics, billed as a collection of seminal papers from the emerging area of ethics and climate change. The topics covered in that volume include human rights, international justice, intergenerational ethics, individual responsibility, climate economics, and the ethics of geoengineering. The product description for the book claims it to be of interest to all those concerned with global justice, environmental science and policy, and the future of humanity. These are codewords for the transnational progressive agenda, a basket full of socialist and anarchist ideas being promoted by muzzy headed academics who speculate about justice from the comfort of their ivory towers.
From this one can conclude that Dr. Gardiner is not a neutral party in the global warming debate, or on matters of international and global justice. Gardiner is but another left leaning philosopher who, after assuming that the horrors of climate change are real and scientifically proven, has moved on to moralizing about the fundamental immorality of rich western nations. Upon reflection, the use of the term “ethical tragedy” in the new book's title should have been a tip off.
If the fluctuation in global temperatures seen over the past century is not being directly caused by human CO2 emissions, then there are no future benefits to be weighed against taking action today. If the changes we see are merely the normal progression of the current interglacial cycle, distributing the blame for global warming becomes a witch hunt, with poor nations demanding support from the rich based on a false premise. Returning to the conference paper on which the book was based, Gardiner arrives at the following conclusion:
In conclusion, the presence of the problem of moral corruption reveals another sense in which climate change may be a perfect moral storm. This is that its complexity may turn out to be perfectly convenient for us, the current generation, and indeed for each successor generation as it comes to occupy our position. For one thing, it provides each generation with the cover under which it can seem to be taking the issue seriously – by negotiating weak and largely substanceless global accords, for example, and then heralding them as great achievements - when really it is simply exploiting its temporal position.
Because the science behind climate change is too complex for most people to understand so laziness leads to inaction and that becomes moral corruption. Deniers are condemning future generations to climate change hell. This is nothing more than a backdoor assertion of an old argument—that the future result of today's inaction could be so horrendous that doing nothing is unthinkable. In reality, this is a logical fallacy and the product of intellectual dishonesty.
The unfortunate result of Gardiner's ethical analysis will be a rash of warmists taking an intellectual shortcut directly to “global warming is immoral.” And that immorality will become a debate ending, irrefutable argument in their eyes—not “solving” global warming is immoral so all climate change skeptics are immoral scoundrels. From there it is only a quick, disingenuous jump to calling people climate criminals and issuing demands for trials.
As well reasoned Gardiner's work might appear, it is based on a false assumption, or at least a premature one—the assumption that we really know what is going to happen to Earth's climate in the future. Until the actual science behind climate change is placed on a firmer footing, such analysis amounts to nothing more that intellectual onanism. Making ethical judgments about hypothetical outcomes as an academic exercise is one thing, using those same arguments to force social and economic policy changes is something else. That something has an ethical dimension as well—it is called lying.
Professor Gardiner's ethical system does not pass skeptical examination. No matter how well reasoned or cleverly argued, a moral case cannot be built upon a lie. A course of action cannot be honestly recommended when the foundation on which it rests, the theory of anthropogenic global warming, is itself fundamentally flawed. All the moral posturing and ethical pronouncements in the world cannot alter the fact that global warming is not good science.
Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.