It appears to be that the issues of climate change as things stand are about what to do about it, and when to do it. In other words, should we adapt or mitigate, just adapt, or invest in mitigation as the focus of our efforts to manipulate the climate of the future?
A second area of discussion is what kind of manipulation/action is best: geoengineering has its champions, (hello, Heiko), as does adaptive engineering/social angineering, and, of course, emissions reduction.
Occasionally, but not often enough, there is a discussion of why we should act on climate change, or why one strategic approach is preferable to its alternatives. This issue, the matter of why, touches on a difficult and as yet unresolved field of study, Ethics. For those who aren’t sure, Ethics is, broadly, the study of the moral value of human conduct and the rules or principles which should govern it.
There are many areas of life which are studied from the ethical perspective: politics, social organisation, the environment (I’ll come back to environmental ethics), business, interpersonal relations, the list is quite exhaustive.
At bottom, what these studies have in common is an attempt to establish what is good or bad, right or wrong, in human actions and choices, and what rules should govern these.
We have become used to the idea that a certain attitude to the world and the ‘natural’ environment is, in itself, ‘good’; that we have some kind of duty, obligation or relationship to the non-human parts of the world which implies the need to care. We often criticize those who show disregard for ‘conservation’ or ‘sustainable living’. Often, there is an underlying division between the natural and the technological/built, or between individual action and corporate or state action; the latter being perceived as intrinsically self-interested, is by definition incapable of ‘caring’ sufficiently for ‘nature’, because the basic premise of its existence is exploitative.
But all of these notions betray an underlying personal stance – a set of values – which are more or less taken for granted. They are also, often, founded on misunderstandings or simplifications of types of human action, and of systems, in that they tend towards the oppositional/dualistic pattern of classification and evaluation.
Avoiding going too far down this tricky pathway, for the time being, the questions I want to ask are simple:
- Why is climate change important?
- Is Climate Ethics a subset of Environmental Ethics?
- Do we know what rules or principles we are following when we think about how to manage climate change?
- Should we ‘manage’ it at all?
- How can we know what is the ‘best’ path of action if we are not clear about what constitutes a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ action?
- Is there an explicit contradiction involved in the progress paths of development and conservation?
There are a host of other questions and issues which, I would suggest, demand that we have an explicit and clear set of values in order to establish the rules for action, and inform the decisions which are to be made by us and on our behalf. Without knowing why we are making a given decision, taking a particular path into the future, we face the danger of simply wandering, ineffectually, towards an unspecified destination, without really understanding why we have even set out to get there in the first place.
Given the messages coming from climate science about the current state of the climate and the prospects for future changes, is it time for us to define an Environmental Imperative? And should such an imperative be anthropocentric or holistic?
If you have any ideas about what an Environmental Imperative might look like, please respond. I am still thinking about it.