Notes on James Garvey, The Ethics of Climate Change

Notes on James Garvey, The Ethics of Climate
Chapter Two: Right and Wrong
• The importance of giving reasons for one’s beliefs and actions
(pp. 38-40)
• Justifying moral beliefs (ex: why killing innocent people is
wrong—pp. 41-2)
• Two moral theories: Utilitarianism and Kantianism
• Environmental ethics (intrinsic vs. instrumental value—pp. 512)
Chapter Three: Responsibility
Cases of direct, immediate responsibility that are easy to
identify (e.g., smashing a vase)
Cases of indirect, cumulative responsibility that are harder to
identify (e.g., carbon emissions)
Three Complexities of Climate Change
• Global problem
• Intergenerational problem
• Our theoretical ineptitude to solve these problems
Two Thought Experiments
• The Prisoner’s Dilemma (and time travel variation)
• The Tragedy of the Commons
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Doesn’t Confess
5 years each
Clyde gets 10 years,
Bonnie gets 0 years
Doesn’t Confess
Bonnie gets 10
years, Clyde gets 0
1 month each
The Tragedy of the Commons
• It is a kind of multi-person dilemma (e.g., the
commuter’s dilemma)
• It can be avoided through enforcement of collective
rules or incentives
Historical Principles of Justice
• Private Property Argument (John Locke)
• Benefits to the Poor Argument (Adam Smith)
The Polluter Pays Principle
• “You Broke It—You Fix It!”
• “Since 1850, the developed world is responsible for a total of
76 per cent of carbon-dioxide emissions, while the developing
world has contributed just 24 per cent (p. 70).
Legal vs. Moral Responsibility
Two Possible Excuses:
• The damage to the Earth’s climate is an accident or an
unintentional outcome
• The damage was done by previous generations
The Equal Shares Argument
Everyone is entitled to an equal share of greenhouse
gas emissions that flow into the global “carbon sink.”
Rich nations like the U.S. have already used more than
their share.
Therefore, rich nations like the U.S. should immediately
begin to cut back on their greenhouse gas emissions.
A Working Definition of Sustainability = “meeting the needs of
the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs” (from the 1987
Brundtland Report to the United Nations)
Chapters Four-Six
• Reasons to Do Nothing about Climate change
• Excuses for Inaction
• A Reason for Action: Reject Unsustainable Maxims
Four Reasons to Do Nothing
• Uncertainty about whether climate change is really
• Prohibitive cost to solve the problem
• Technological rescue
• Waiting for others to act
Ten Excuses for Inaction on Climate Change
“I don’t believe in climate change.”
“Technology will be able to halt climate change.”
“I blame the government or the Americans or the Chinese.”
“But you wrote that book on paper. You killed trees!”
“It’s not my problem.”
“There’s nothing I can do about it.”
“How I run my life is my own business.”
“There are more important and urgent problems to tackle.”
“At least I am doing something.”
“We are already making a lot of progress on climate change.”
Unsustainable Maxims
“Pick an unsustainable maxim: ‘consume as much as you can’, or ‘don’t
conserve finite resources’, or ‘use a disproportionate share of a finite
good’. It doesn’t take much to see that these maxims cannot be
universalized. If everyone consumed as much as they could, there would
be nothing much left to consume. Consumption on a certain scale
undermines consumption itself. If resources weren’t conserved, there’d be
no resources to use. Finally, not everyone can use a disproportionate
share of a finite good--only proportionate uses are possible for everyone.
The very fact that the maxims are themselves part of an unsustainable
order means that they could never be universal laws, never part of a
consistent world, never in keeping with the moral law.”
(James Garvey, The Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a
Warming World [NY: Continuum, 2008], p. 149)
Living Deliberately
Garvey invokes the 19th century naturalist, philosopher, and activist Henry David
Thoreau’s expression “living deliberately”:
“Living deliberately, to borrow Thoreau’s excellent turn of phrase, is not something
most of us do. There’s not much wrong with this, of course, and it would be
preposterous to suggest that we all attend to our lives as carefully as did Thoreau.
It is, anyway, true that we do not think much about how we live, much less about
the moral status of our lives as such. Instead, at least some of the time, we go
with the flow of life, drift along until we bump into something which calls for a
thought or two. Sometimes what we bump into is a moral question or dilemma or
problem, a worry about the rightness or wrongness of a particular course of
action. Sometimes we stumble into something nearer a crisis, a much larger
question about the general way we ought to live, what sort of person we ought to
be. These crises about the course or nature of a life3 really can be primarily moral
in flavour, however else they might seem at the time. Reflection on climate
change and what to do about it in your own life can feel like something in between
a moral problem or question and a crisis--better, it can seem to have some of the
properties of both” (pp. 147-148).
Collective Action
Two forms of collective action (p. 152):
Civilly obedient = “employs lawful means in the hope that a
society might take a different course”
Civilly disobedient = “non-violent, non-revolutionary but still
unlawful collective action with political ambition”