This page will show some notes, ongoing work, and thoughts about the Masters degree I will be pursuing this year on ‘Values and Environment’. If you are interested in the subject, look in regularly for updates and ideas, Staring at the end of September.
First, the description/explanation. Here, in the first instance, the subject is our (humanity’s/the individual’s) relationship with the world (nature, the environment) . In particular, the ethical relationship, that is, the regulation of human actions on non-human, (living) objects of action.
What we want to find out, then, is what we should or shouldn’t do, what we should constrain ourselves and (human) others from doing and, of real significance, why. The ‘why’ is the attempt to establish the reasoning behind the rules we make, and the rational justification for our rules and, broadly, ‘values’.
The questions in the context of the Masters course relate specifically to the environment and, as it is my own personal interest, the climate system. What I want to work out and express are the principles underlying the decisions which we make about the climate in particular and the environment in general. At this point, merely at the start of the exploration, I bring in a pre-existing attitude to philosophy and to the subject of the course, which is confused, being imperfect, but is broadly based on an existential/phenomenological view of what it means to be human.
I hope to be able to demonstrate that both our values and the environment, the two subjects of debate, can be rationally founded on the phenomenological conception of human meaning, and that, through a development of existing reasoning on the subject, a solid and practical foundation can exist for important everyday decisions for individuals and institutions (collectives). Thus, phenomenology becomes the baseline from which a practical contemporary ethics can be constructed which informs the decision-making process and justifies those decisions.
So the project is ambitious; to demonstrate (even in part, a small new element, perhaps) that what we do, how we interact with the world and the climate, should be justified by reference to a set of principles founded on a rational extension of the basic human question; what we are, and what it means for us to be.
If time allows, this may extend into a practical case-study, which at this early stage might be called ‘the phenomenology of climate’; a philosophical grounding of the ‘defining issue’ of our generation. By extension, what is found to be rationally ‘right’ for the climate should, in theory, also be ‘right’ for the environment as a whole.
Please note that comments are enabled on this page, and you are welcome to make this a dialogue, not only if you are a fellow student, but also if the subject interests or confuses you.
Update; October 8th.
So, we’re starting off by looking at one of the first ideas in EE: the instrumental-intrinsic debate. Is the environment [climate] valuable because of its relation to us, humans, as its exploiters/users, or in its own right?
Sticking to the climate; what is the object under moral consideration? Are we talking about the atmosphere, the oceans too, or the things which cause changes in climate? What is it that is the source of the problem?
What seems to be unique about climate change ethics is that its impact potential is larger than any other area effected by human activity/intervention since the advent of the nuclear bomb. The scale of the problems faced, and the potential solutions, makes this a global problem. What is also becoming clear is that there are two ‘matters’ which need decisions to be made to produce ‘results’ (eg, a change in human behaviour). The first set of matters are the environment, including the specifically human element, and the effect that climate change as a force will have on this, both as a whole, and in parts. In parts, because many countries and regions will face problems relative to their geographic location and capacity to adapt to change, as a whole, because the evidence is increasing tha, by virtue of the knock-on effects if nothing else, no country will be unaffected by climate change.
And here is a second peculiarity of climate change ethics; it has to deal with environmental, political, atmospheric and economic issues. In this sense, it could be argued that climate change is the unifier of the globe; certainly, if solution, or at least mitigation, is to be achieved, then global unity on action is almost certainly required.
Does this imply that some kind of ethics unifying all these disparate issues, which have for some time had their own criteria to work from, which are not necessarily mutually compatible, is therefore necessary? Some argue that it is the solutions which matter, not the principles; others that without a sound principle at work, effective solutions may be hard, if not impossible, to implement.
Update October 24th
The problem of definition
Climate change and its associated ethics has generally been considered to be a problem of Environmentalism. It’s easy to see why; after all, the climate is intrinsically bound to the environment, and definitions of types of environment, and ideas like evolution, depend on the idea of a type of climate, variations in climate. So we have got used to the idea that, as acid rain or the ozone layer are environmental issues, so too is the problem of AGW.
But it seems clear to me that this is far too limiting an idea. Climate impacts are impacts on the environment (and people). Climate change is a change to the whole system, not one part. But what is the climate? Is it ‘sick’? Why does a changing climate matter?
There are problems here. In one sense, the sense in which climate refers to the average of trended details of weather, it is a sort of mathematical entity. But it is also a real thing in the world; we do, after all, have the Koppen-Geigen climate maps (just updated, btw). So ‘climate’ refers to a localised ‘mean state’ defined in relation to the consistency of patterns over time, as they manifest in land/surface typologies. Therefore, ‘climate change’ can be said to refer to the changes in typology of land areas, caused by a change in the dominant climate trends which define them.
At the moment, about a quarter of the land surface has a desert climate; another quarter is Boreal forest or Taiga, and so forth. So, ‘global climate change’ might refer to the way in which some of these types are increasing, while others are decreasing.
More later; I’m a bit busy today…