Chapter 12: Responding to Climate Change


Thomas Hurka, “Ethical Principles”

Understanding

  1. Why does Hurka think that consensus on how to address climate change is possible?
  2. What distinguishes welfarist accounts of morality from perfectionist accounts?
  3. What distinguishes maximizing principles, egalitarian principles, and satisficing principles?
  4. Hurka argues that, even on the view that only “humans here and now” matter morally, we have some reasons for avoidance (mitigation). What are his reasons for this claim?
  5. How does Hurka distinguish individualist environmentalist ethics from holistic environmentalist ethics?
  6. Why does Hurka introduce the concept of diminishing marginal utility?
  7. Hurka writes that “Just as it is hard to believe that non-humans have rights that can constrain an acceptable climate policy, so it is hard to believe that they have rights that call for compensation within such a policy.” Why does he say this?

Evaluative

  1. Regarding the threat of climate change, Hurka writes that “It seems likely that, in this policy area, the acts that turn out to benefit and harm humans will be roughly the same on welfarist, perfectionist, and indeed all plausible theories of the human good.” Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
  2. Hurka discusses ethical responsibilities that we have to present and future persons. Might we also have ethical responsibilities to past people who are no longer alive? Why or why not?
  3. It is widely acknowledged that stronger moral obligations are owed to people who are more immediately close to us, especially family members and dependents. By similar reasoning, we might also have greater moral obligation to members of our society than we do to members of other societies. Do you think that this is true? If yes, does this weaken Hurka’s conclusions? Why or why not? If no, explain why you think this is not true, and why Hurka’s position is not weakened by this line of reasoning.
  4. Hurka writes that “Someone owes compensation for harming another only if he or she knew or should have known at the time of acting that the harm would result.” Do you agree? If yes, explain why, and explain if and why this principle should not be enforced with reference to climate change. If no, explain why, and explain what implications this has for the culpability of the industrialized nations for their centuries-long contribution to climate change.
  5. Hurka writes that “Even the least controversial principles about consequences concerning present and future humans give us substantial reasons to pursue avoidance, that is, to change our present practices so the largest changes in global temperatures are prevented.” Why does Hurka think this? Do you agree? Why or why not?

Bjørn Lomborg, “Perspectives on Climate Change”

Understanding

  1. Why does Lomborg take issue with the alarmist approach to climate change awareness and problem solving?
  2. How do Lomborg’s discussions on heat and cold deaths, sea level increases, hurricane frequency, and malaria figure in his argument?
  3. Why is Lomborg skeptical about the effectiveness of the Kyoto protocol?
  4. Lomborg writes that “The trick probably lies in understanding that what matters is not whether we cut a little now, but whether we eventually cut a lot.” Why does he say this?
  5. Why does Lomborg insist that global warming is only one of many important issues?

Evaluative

  1. Lomborg argues for a form of adaptation rather than mitigation. He believes rich countries should invest billions of dollars in research to make green energy sources more efficient and affordable. What are his reasons for this claim? Do you think they are good reasons? Why or why not?
  2. By focusing only on the effects of climate change on human populations, do you think Lomborg overlooking other relevant consequences of climate change? Why or why not?
  3. Do you agree with how Lomborg ranks the importance of climate change relative to other world problems? Why or why not?
  4. Do you think Lomborg’s desire for international cooperation on climate changes problem solving is a realistic goal? Why or why not?

Thomas Homer-Dixon, “The Great Transformation—Climate Change as Cultural Change”

Understanding

  1. Homer-Dixon writes “At its core, the climate problem is fundamentally an energy problem.” Why does he think this?
  2. What is Homer-Dixon’s technical definition of “complexity” and how does it figure in his discussion?
  3. Why is Homer-Dixon critical of what he calls “end-of-pipe solutions” to environmental damage?
  4. How does Homer-Dixon contrast risk and uncertainty? Why is this distinction important?
  5. What does Homer-Dixon mean by “non-linear behaviour”? What role does this concept play in his discussion of climate change?
  6. What is an “open-architecture process of democratic problem solving”? Why does Homer-Dixon propose this as a way forward in dealing with climate change?

Evaluative

  1. The economic transformation Homer-Dixon argues for involves replacing the view that economic growth is the engine that powers society with what he calls “resilience.” What does he mean by this term? What are his reasons for the necessity of this transformation? Do you think they are good reasons? Why or why not?
  2. Homer-Dixon says the normative transformation is the deepest one: we need to expand who “we” includes. What does he think grounds this expansion of moral concern? Do you agree with this? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think that Homer-Dixon’s analysis of the non-linear relationship between connectivity and resilience is accurate? Why or why not?
  4. On the basis of Homer-Dixon’s understanding of risk and uncertainty, do you think that he has good reason to conclude either way on the question of whether our current level of environmental impact will have harmful or beneficial consequences? Why or why not?

Vandana Shiva, “Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis”

Understanding

  1. Shiva writes that “We need to define equity on the same ecological parameters locally and globally.” Why does she think this?
  2. What does Shiva mean by “industrial paradigm”? Why is she critical of this concept?
  3. Shiva writes that “the solution to the climate crisis begins with the cultures and communities who have not contributed to it.” What does she mean by this?

Evaluative

  1. Shiva thinks that “climate justice demands that every person, every community, every society have the freedom to create and defend economies that cause no harm to the climate or to other people.” Do you think that this is a realistic goal? Why or why not?
  2. Shiva rejects technological and economic solutions to climate change and other forms of environmental destruction. Instead, she argues that only biodiversity and lower-tech ways of living can save the planet. What are her reasons for this view? Do you think they are good reasons? Why or why not?
  3. What would Earth Democracy mean for your community? For Canada? Do you support it? Why or why not?

Comparative

  1. Lomborg is critical of what he calls “alarmist repertoire” which characterizes the problem of climate change as “awesome, terrible, immense and beyond human control.” Do you think Lomborg’s critique applies to the material presented by the other authors of this chapter? Do you think Lomborg is correct? Why or why not?
  2. Homer-Dixon thinks that the world has become too interconnected, and globalization should be scaled back. Shiva believes that this interconnectivity is immutable because of the nature of the world ecology. Which view do think is more defensible? Or are these two views reconcilable? Explain your answer.
  3. Hurka gives different reasons than Homer-Dixon’s for expanding the scope of our moral concern. Do you think Hurka’s arguments are better, worse than, or as good as Homer-Dixon’s? Why?
  4. Hurka thinks that “the idea that ecosystems or environmental wholes have rights” is “very hard to believe.” In contrast, Shiva insists that “all beings and all peoples are equal, and all beings and all communities have rights to the resources of the earth for their sustenance.” Which view do think is more defensible? Or are these two views reconcilable? Explain your answer.
  5. According to Hurka, “Humans in developing countries have a low quality of life, and any ethical principle that counts their interests will recognize an ethical demand to improve that quality of life.” Shiva sees things differently. She believes that “because the planet’s resources and capacity to renew resources are limited, a reduction in energy and resource consumption of the rich is necessary for all to have access to land and water, food and fiber, air and energy.” Which view do think is more defensible? Or are these two views reconcilable? Explain your answer.
  6. In order to redress certain climate change-related problems that might arise for human populations, Lomborg suggests relocation as one possible solution. For Shiva, relocation is out of the question. Which view do you think is more defensible, and why?