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IPCC Summary Statement

One can certainly do better than quote oneself, but hopefully do worse as well.

In light of the publication of the IPCC summary statement, I recall something that I wrote back in August of 2004:

"... [C]onfronted with the reality of climate change and a human role therein, the central question for deliberation - What is to be done? - is an ethical-political one, not primarily a scientific one (not "primarily" because, while sober scientific judgment undoubtedly must inform deliberation, the answer eludes science's competence). In other words, to suppose that science simply "tells" us how to address [climate change] is a blatant category mistake."

Put another way ... even assuming that we could believe, to a reasonable level of certainty, that a certain course of action would ameliorate climate change significantly, it still doesn't follow that it ought to be undertaken. The costs of so doing may be unjustifiable.

February 2, 2007 | Permalink

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Comments

Paul,

I absolutely agree that these are ethical questions. I also agree with the idea that we have to have a sense of cost. Where we probably disagree is the idea that that can be measured in money. I have two
problems with that.

1. ultimately, the money economy is what is in question, so it is rather odd to use the metric it produces as an absolute measure for an ethical question;

and

2. where money is a useful guide, I think, is that it is a shadow of the real values at play here. The seizure of the atmosphere by the industrial economies, for instance, can be estimated in some way - but it is an odd estimate that puts a price on a thing that can't be bought or sold, for which no market exists. That doesn't mean we can't have a secondary market. If you sold your honesty and I bought it, we would definitely establish some prices, but the prices wouldn't reflect the value of your honesty. Thus, we need some other benchmarks of cost and
benefit.

Posted by: roger at Feb 4, 2007 10:05:42 AM

Roger,

Insightful comment - thank you.

I felt that my use of "cost" might raise an objection. I'm using it in the widest sense, as in "that which, of necessity, is forsaken or abjured by taking a specific course of action."

In this understanding, money-prices would measure or be an indicator for many costs, though - I think we're in agreement here; need to think about it - not necessarily all.

You'll have to say more about your contention that "ultimately, the money economy is what is in question." By "money economy" do you mean "market economy"? If so, that's quite a frank admission. But, so as to prevent me from arguing with the wrong position, please say more.

Posted by: Paul Craddick at Feb 4, 2007 10:20:13 AM

Hey paul.
I find it interesting to contrast what you wrote with another insightful post on a blog named Smokewriting - here's the link. http://www.smokewriting.co.uk/2007/02/01/on-apocalypticism/. The Smokewriting person blames capital, and I think that is what you are wondering about when I used the term "money economy" - which I used, thinking about Simmel's notion that money has mapped and helped create modern societies. I didn't want to use just market economy because, obviously, the Soviet Union is a prime example of the fact that environmental disaster transcends the market economy/state command and control economy divide. The toxic dumping of private companies in the U.S. or the mad war against the Aral sea in the Soviet Union come from a deeper structure than simply free enterprise or communism. It comes from a whole way of looking at the interaction between the planet and human beans. A way that is very recent, as you know. And that I think is in the final stage, in one way or another.

Posted by: roger at Feb 4, 2007 11:17:26 AM

Roger,

A rare moment of near-complete agreement - I'm gonna savor it!

Posted by: Paul Craddick at Feb 5, 2007 11:33:57 AM

Paul, we can't agree, man. If we agree, it will be like Batman and the Penguin merging into one persona, thus unleashing an explosion in the fourth dimension. We will destroy Gotham city!

Posted by: roger at Feb 5, 2007 8:35:02 PM

Paul,

that you question whether or not something should be done to ameliorate climate change is surprising. Have you seen: An Inconvenient Truth? To switch to clean energy sources (wind, solar, ethanol, etc.) could mean a future of habitat sustainability rather than depletion and ruin.

Whatever the cost, it is significantly less than the alternative: compounded years of global misery and ruin leading up to likely human extinction here on Earth. Is this a gamble that you are willing to take? I say: better to be safe than sorry - and, if one must err, err on the side of safety. Also, I think that if you had kids you might be more concerned for their future happiness, health, safety, and well-being - even if you don't care about your own - or your fellow man/ woman.

nyca

Posted by: nyca at Feb 7, 2007 11:28:36 PM

Hello Paul,

It's a curious framing of the 'cost' question which seems to intimate inaction as a 'default' position. I think the lessons of our species' history show that reaction to new information and dynamic change is a, more proper, default position. Does a man walking toward a cliff alter his behaviour? So to rhetorically invert your question then, are the costs of inaction too great? It would seem so. With the scientific case compelling then, by any measure of value, from an ethical duty of care that ought to inform at least a precautionary approach to our environment and other species, to the social/cultural (is it desirable to commit eco-cide, when the outcome of previous smaller scale environmental degradations has been conflict and mass mortality -see Jared Diamond's Collapse) to the potentially huge medium-term economic costs of climate change (as elucidated in the Stern report 2006), it seems to me that one is hard pressed to come up with any persuasive case for inaction (very short term economic costs aside). In fact the burgeoning of alternative fuels surely offers huge new avenues of economic opportunity that don't involve reliance on fossil fuels, which with impending 'peak oil' & placing less emphasis on oil (less foreign policy 'adventures'), seem forward thinking choices.

I wonder if you are playing 'advocatus diaboli' ;-)

Be well, And

Posted by: Andy Saxon at Feb 23, 2007 11:51:33 AM

And,

Great to have a comment from you - thank you.

You seem to have read me in haste, for I did not contrast action/inaction. Rather, I specifically entertained the matter of "action [which] would ameliorate climate change significantly" vs. action which would not. The latter doesn't necessarily entail "inaction" (as in twiddling one's thumbs and hoping for the best); it might well entail a policy of creative adaptation to the change.

Anyhow ... my point was simply this: assuming that it could be known to a reasonable level of certainty that course such-and-such would halt the harmful climate change held, in the main, to be caused by human activity, no conclusion automatically follows. That course of action may or may not be worthy of pursuit. And that matter is an ethical-political one, not a scientific one.

There's a disturbing tendency to treat this issue merely technically, as if its in the purview of "experts." It is not; or, rather, the expert would need to be expert in/at prudence - namely, be a true statesman - rather than a mere scientist. I read a great blurb from Chomsky recently to the effect that scientists are amongst the least reliable/most harmful when it comes to offering counsel on what ought to be done ("policy"), and I'm inclined to agree; as specialists, they suffer from tunnel vision.

There are too many issues in your challenge for me to address adequately in this space; I'll just offer a few jabs in return. The Stern report is much more problematic than you seem to allow. I remain unpersuaded with respect to the general utility of the "precautionary principle," and for that matter I think that the assumptions which inform the conventional view on global warming, and the appropriate responses to it, are deeply problematic. OF course I speak from a philosophical standpoint, not a scientific one, since I have no scientific expertise.

To show a bit of my hand ... if the Kyoto-style recommendations in any way rest on the assumption that the complex of processes which comprise the climatic system can be reliably "managed" - and I strongly suspect there is such a tacit assumption - then that is an absurdly dangerous conceit. A modern complex economy cannot be "managed" with any success; a fortiori, a planet cannot be.

Posted by: Paul Craddick at Feb 25, 2007 9:15:47 PM

Paul, time for your once a month post! I know you think the blogsosphere has turned into the moronic inferno, but sometimes, you just gotta join in the fun!

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