Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A perfect moral storm

I've been traveling and reading an outstanding book while on the road.  Stephen Gardiner's A Perfect Moral Storm:  The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change should be a must-read for anyone interested in sustainability issues.  He tackles the issue head on:  human-caused climate change is creating a huge inter-generational problem and we have to try to understand it and fix it. While fascinating, the book is a pretty difficult read and I may re-read some parts of it.  

He starts with the assertion that we must be concerned about what we leave for future generations because they're not present now to help us manage our decisions yet they will certainly be effected by them.  With this, and little else, as a starting assumption, he defines the perfect moral storm as one that has three main components:

1) a global problem (climate change acts on the earth as a whole, but the rich are creating the problem and the poor are suffering now and are likely to suffer more in the future--this is immoral)

2) an intergenerational element (those who will be impacted in the future have no say in what we do now and it's immoral to do things that we know will cause more suffering in the future)

3) a theoretical component (we don't, he argues, have a good theory of intergenerational ethics to guide us and this makes us susceptible to rationalizations and justifications that will cause inaction or insufficient action).

He warns us about how easy it is to slip into complacency and put off tackling some hard questions head on, but that if we profess to be moral, we must be concerned with protecting life on earth in the future. He also discusses the non-trivial issues of trading off real costs now (which may cause some discomfort) with unknown benefits in the future.  However, the lack of certainty, he argues, shouldn't and can't be an excuse for inaction today and those that block action are likely to be morally corrupt.

The rub, ultimately, will be to translate lucid arguments into meaningful political action and he traces the failures, to date, of our attempts to enact meaningful global legislation that might control/reverse the worst impacts of increased atmospheric CO2.

There's a LOT in this book; but it's well worth struggling over.  I want to have some friends read it and then talk about it.  I suggest you do the same.

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