Climate Change

Dale Jamieson : Ethics, Public Policy, and Global Warming


Thanks to James Hansen’s testimony to the U.S. Senate committee in the summer of 1988 the concern of global warming has been introduced to the public. It is predicted by the IPCC that we would need to cut our net emissions by 60% immediately in order to “stabilize at a carbon dioxide doubling by the end of the century”. This is so unlikely so it is more likely we may see a 4 degree rise in centigrade by the end of the century. Such a raise is thought to have grave effects on the climate and therefore all the plants and animals that reside on earth.

With the theory of Global warming came backlash which has put a halt on taking action. Even the Bush administration had difficulties taking sides on the issue. There are many theories on the issue which include the idea that this phenomenon is good for us or this influx of green house gases will cause an ice age, or “others influenced by the Gaia Hypothesis, believe that there are self-regulating planetary mechanisms that may preserve climate stability even in the face of anthropocentric forcings of green house gases”. According to Jamieson, the force driving the backlash “is not the concerns about the weakness of the science but the realization that slowing global warming or responding to its effects may involve large economic costs and redistributions, as well as, radical changes in life style”. Further he feels this problem is not just a scientific problem but a problem with our values so ethics and politics must also be addressed in order to fix it.

He discusses the fault in the management approach to assessing global warming. This refers to focusing on the economic factors and “internalizing the cost of climate change risks and regulations and standards”… “which internalize cost thus creating a more perfect market”. This concept has become important because people usually take a stand on things that will most benefit them and what they find important and as our economy grows it takes a larger stand in our decision making process. Economists have become bolder while other points of view have been pushed aside allowing us to lose sight of the fact that there are other values which we should consider. He also brings up the fact that people cannot be predicted and are seen as manipulative so it is hard to trust this management approach.

Anthropocentric change is largely an ethical issue and our “conventional value system is not adequate for addressing it”. He states that our system of values is a cultural construction not individual. And it should address “specific permissions, norms, duties, and obligations; it assigns blame, praise, and responsibility; and provides an account of what is valuable and what is not”. With that said he feels our value system is still inadequate because it “impinges on the environment, can be thought of as relatively recent construction, coincident with the rise of capitalism and modern science. Our values reflect a consumption, technology driven and social justice driven society.

His thoughts on our value system are, in my opinion, quite right but could use some further description as to why it is so inadequate. He fails to address that we are as a whole capable of adapting and have the ability to change for the better. As for the Management approach, I feel as a country we are slowly coming aware of other values as the green movement develops and flourishes.

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