Climate of Change Over Changing Climate: Ethics and Complacency

Last Friday, on a whim, I created an open thread called Winds of Change, Comfortably Numb. Like the song from the video, the winds of change are blowing -- quite literally, too: the climate is changing, in social & political ways as well as ecological terms.1


The future's in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change


New studies were published over the weekend that serve to reinforce some previous data about the issue of global climate change. In his piece Warming and Storms, Uncertainty and Ethics, Andrew C. Revkin writes about how those studies may impact our approach to human-induced global warming:


Over the weekend, a pair of very different climate studies — one physical, one social — illustrated two uncomfortable, and related, realities confronting society as it grapples with possible responses to human-driven global warming.

Revkin is right: both studies, particularly when combined, leave us with some disturbing things to mull over.

While the first study, published in Natural Geoscience, appears to supplement research that points to a link between rising global temperatures and increases in hurricane size, strength and frequency. This, of course, means that we need even more studies to help further our understanding, as our grasp as yet is tentative at best.

The second study which caught Revkin's attention was a post on that argued "another uncomfortable reality: Complacency is not an ethical response to the persistent uncertainty clouding forecasts of harmful impacts from the continuing buildup of human-generated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."

Indeed, the second paper was supplemented by the author -- Donald A. Brown -- through a comment to the Revkin article that makes, in one succinct summarizing sentence, a brilliant and (imo) inescapable statement. Namely,

Ethics Demands that High Emitting Nations Both Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Face of Scientific Uncertainty and to Pay for the Climate Change Damages.


That pesky little thing that influences and affects the smooth functioning of any truly advanced, truly civilized society. I've previously touched upon2 the somewhat twisted manner in which "civilization" defines itself from time to time. sometimes, the delusions we build for excusing our behaviours and actions -- or lack thereof -- are not only far-reaching but deadly.

I strongly recommend reading Revkin's article, the two studies he cites, and the comment by Professor Brown. Now is the time when we need to instill, in ourselves, an immutable sense of ethical responsibility to be the impetus of change within our world.

The time is now, and the opportunity is knocking at our door upon the winds of change and fortune.


The wind of change
Blows straight into the face of time
Like a stormwind that will ring the freedom bell
For peace of mind


We read, day after day and week after week, about how this current Adminstration has politicized not only all branches of the federal government and judiciary, but also how it has -- with the help of Congressional cronies and big-money lobbies -- forced changes and deleted information in scientific findings that would impact not only our climate policy and our scientific research into energy and the enervironment but also help us take effective steps and measures toward the creation of a cleaner, more economic and ecologically friendly world.

Meanwhile, the studies that we are seeing by qualified scientists tell us that the impact we are having and the influence on the world ecology is changing at a rate faster than previously understood.

If the duty to put the callous disregard aside does not fall to us, then who?

If not now, then when?


"The nature of the risk from climate change is enormous and using scientific uncertainty as an excuse for doing nothing is ethically intolerable,"

The words of Professor Brown should be ingrained upon the foreheads of those who repeatedly maneuver for more delay in order to duck responsibility.

It's not their world that they're keeping intact -- it's the world of our children and children's children that they're destroying.

With our help.


Where the children of tomorrow dream away
in the wind of change



Footnotes and References

  1. Winds of Change lyrics.
  2. Civilization's African Toll: From The Cradle of Civilization to a Grave of Indifference, 27 July 2007.
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It's about 40 years late for relating economics and ethics to global warming.

Consider the airplanes from World War II, the P-51 Mustang, the Spitfire and the P-38 Lightning. Didn't engineers have to know something about aerodynamics to design planes capable of doing 400+ mph? So why are we supposed to care about changes in cars 39 years after the moon landing and 63 years after WWII? They just roll along the ground at less than 130 mph. We hear about the pollution coming from our cars but what about the pollution created in manufacturing the cars?

Suppose we have created 50% more pollution than necessary just to have useless variations in crummy cars? Shouldn't someone have noticed by now? But if the cars had cost less because of fewer useless changes and lasted longer wouldn't that have reduced our depreciation and car loans and insurance? So couldn't the economy be very different if we had thought a little differently 50 years ago? Maybe we would have had an extra 10 years to get our act together on climate change.

But our ethical economists don't talk about the depreciation of all of our automobiles and they don't suggest mandatory accounting in the schools either. Why isn't knowing accounting like knowing how to ride a bike? Double entry accounting is 700 years old. Bicycles aren't that old.

Kill an economist for Karl

who have been vocal since the '60s are called "tree-huggers" or "hippies" in some circles even if the name doesn't exactly fit.

The book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough & Michael Braungart is a good example of what we should be doing, and provides us an idea as to how to approach it:


In Cradle to Cradle, McDonough and Braungart argue that the conflict between industry and the environment is not an indictment of commerce but an outgrowth of purely opportunistic design. The design of products and manufacturing systems growing out of the Industrial Revolution reflected the spirit of the day-and yielded a host of unintended yet tragic consequences.

Today, with our growing knowledge of the living earth, design can reflect a new spirit. In fact, the authors write, when designers employ the intelligence of natural systems—the effectiveness of nutrient cycling, the abundance of the sun's energy—they can create products, industrial systems, buildings, even regional plans that allow nature and commerce to fruitfully co-exist.


For whatever time the human species has left to live on this planet and in the universe, if we begin to think and act more responsibly with the tools and resources we have and approach our manufacturing, recycling and consumption processes more intelligently, we'll be better for it.

We may not be in time to save our planet from major changes that our prior disregard foisted upon it; we might survive, however, and hopefully learn from it.

Senate Panel Supports California Emissions Waiver

Published: May 22, 2008

A Senate panel approved a measure to reverse a ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency and let California enforce auto emission standards that are tougher than federal law. The Committee on Environment and Public Works voted 10 to 9 to amend the Clean Air Act to grant California’s request for a waiver from E.P.A. rules that prohibit states from establishing their own pollution restrictions. Fourteen other states have adopted or are adopting the California standards and seek similar waivers from the federal rules.

Don't know that any of us will be driving vehicles by the time this oil debacle finishes...... I live in TX and we do not have any mass transportation system.....ain't that a bitch!