Dr. Stephen Gardiner – Why Ethics and Climate Change

There is a strong ethical component to how we choose to reduce CO2 emissions and tackle climate change, according to Dr. Stephen Gardiner, University of Washington Department of Philosophy, at this week’s FOSEP seminar.  Dr. Gardiner put forth two questions on climate policy that have underlying moral considerations: 

1. Where should we set a global ceiling on CO2 emissions? 
2. How should those emissions be distributed among the world population?

 Dr. Gardiner called the second question the easy moral question.  All views of fairness point to developed countries shouldering the burden of emissions reductions.  He called the first question the tough moral question.  In setting a global ceiling, how do we weigh the needs and aspirations of current people, obligations to future people, and obligations to plants and animals of the planets?  How do we weigh the responsibilities of individuals versus governments? 
Dr. Gardiner did not offer optimism for progress at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.  Any policy, no matter how ethical, has to be politically feasible.  Up to now, the United States has been unwilling to take steps towards emissions reductions.   However, almost all the nations in the world must agree to a plan to tackle climate change, or the countries that do not take part can negate the efforts of the countries moving ahead.