This Faculty of Philosophy series brings together some of the world’s leading experts in climate ethics — John Broome, Megan Blomfield, Henry Shue and Simon Caney — to showcase the latest and cutting edge work in the area.
This series is intended to spark interest in questions relating to philosophy and climate change and unite people across the university interested in issues of climate change and the role of philosophy in furthering climate research, action and discussion. The first 45mins-hour will consist of a lecture and then the floor will be open to questions and discussion.
Session 1: Professor John Broome (Oxford) — 'Self-interest against climate change' Wednesday May 20 (Week 4), 2-4pm Register here Abstract: For almost thirty years, the international effort to bring climate change under control has appealed ultimately to moral motives. We have been told we should make the small sacrifice of reducing our emissions of greenhouse gas for the sake of the much greater benefit it will bring to other people. In particular, the current generation should reduce its emissions for the sake of the future. But action against climate change must principally come from governments, and not all governments are susceptible to moral motivation. For this reason the effort is failing. We must try a different approach. Because greenhouse gas is what economists call an 'externality', it is possible in principle to respond to climate change in a way that is in everybody's interest. The great benefit that will result from controlling climate change can in principle be distributed across people and generations in such a way that no sacrifice is required from anyone. If this can be achieved in practice, we can harness the powerful motivation of self-interest to control climate change. But to make it possible in practice, we need a new economic institution, which might be called the World Climate Bank. International effort should be redirected towards creating this institution.
Session 2: Dr. Megan Blomfield (Sheffield) — ‘Climate Responsibilities in an Unjust World’ Wednesday June 3 (Week 6), 2-4pm Register here
Abstract: Who is responsible for bearing any burdens of addressing the problem of climate change? Common answers in the philosophical literature include polluters, beneficiaries of pollution, or the wealthy. In this talk I argue that whilst these answers might appear able to help us divide up the costs of climate change relatively neatly, they cannot provide an accurate picture of responsibility for addressing this problem. Particularly in a world that is radically unjust, like our own, responsibility for climate change is far more diffuse and difficult to apportion.
Session 3: Professor Henry Shue (Oxford) — 'Are There Second Chances in Climate Change? Carbon Dioxide Removal and Intergenerational Risk Transfer' Wednesday June 17 (Week 8), 2-4pm Register here Abstract: Almost all the policies toward climate change that are currently under consideration in order to enable the earth to reach 2100 with an increase in average global temperature of no more than 2° C depend to some extent on carbon dioxide removal [CDR], because it is already impossible today to restrict cumulative CO2 emissions to a quantity that will not force temperature to go higher at least temporarily, which scientists call an emissions ‘overshoot’. The complementary good news is that CO2 can be extracted from the atmosphere, as is done by trees and other plant life engaged in photosynthesis. Several technologies for anthropogenic CDR are now in some stage of development. Does this mean that what appear to be dates-of-last-opportunity for climate action are not in fact last chances to prevent climate change from leading to disastrous outcomes? That the answer is no is the thesis of this talk.
I will highlight two of the reasons. First, CDR mobilized now to supplement ambitious emissions reductions now could be valuable, depending on whether it required too much land, water, or other scarce resources. But relaxed emissions reductions now, seemingly invited by hopes of CDR in later decades, would amount to coercive transfers of costs and risks from present generations to future generations. This is worse than an ordinary situation of ‘moral hazard’. Second, even reversible emissions ‘overshoots’ can force irreversible changes to the planet, such as sea-level rises from ice sheets driven past critical melting points that would continue for centuries after cumulative emissions were lowered by CDR. Dreams of CDR ought not to be allowed to motivate reductions of emissions at anything less than the most ambitious rate possible.
Session 4: Professor Simon Caney (Warwick) — 'Power, Political Responsibilities and Climate Change' Wednesday June 24 (Week 9). 2:00-4:00pm BST. Register here Abstract: Tackling climate change and the transition to a zero carbon economy requires a radical transformation of the social, economic and political institutions that structure our lives. It calls for the overhaul of our cities, towns, and buildings and infrastructure; putting a price on carbon; investing in clean energy and facilitating clean energy transfer; and the re-evaluation of existing practices and social norms. It is also imperative that this transition is a just one, one in which any burdens are borne by those with the greatest ability to pay. All this requires concerted political action.But what kind of political action is required? Who has what political responsibilities to bring about this change? What political responsibilities do you or I have? What are the sources of these responsibilities? Political action requires coalitions and cooperation with others, but then this raises further questions that arise from membership of a political movement. What form should such political cooperation take? What responsibilities do people have as political actors? Do we have a duty to temper our view and compromise in the interests of effectiveness or out of respect for others? What epistemic responsibilities do agents have? How do we go about answering such questions?My aim in this talk is to provide some answers to these questions. I argue that Erik Olin Wright's theory of social transformation provides a fruitful framework for thinking about these issues. With this in mind, and drawing on the social scientific work on the politics of carbon, energy and energy transitions, I outline an account of agents' political responsibilities.