Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Climate change is happening, and the consequences are likely to be bad. If we—the people and nations of the world—fail to take action soon to address its causes and mitigate its effects, the consequences may be very bad. What should we do? Bill McKibben calls this “the most important question that there ever was,” and many of the scientists who study the issue have described it as one of the most difficult and important challenges that human civilization has confronted. (The quote comes from a tribute McKibben gave for James Hansen. See Justin Gillis, “Climate Maverick to Retire from NASA,” The New York Times, April 1, 2013.) My goal in this chapter is to examine some of the moral dimensions of the problem. These turn out to be philosophically complicated and challenging. As a practical matter, the causes and consequences of climate change have unprecedented spatial and temporal scope. Others who have written on climate change ethics have pointed out that these facts about scope make the problem difficult to think about clearly. I will describe these issues, but my goal is to try to explain how the spatial and temporal dimensions interact to create a unique moral dilemma. There are ample grounds in this analysis for pessimism, but I believe it also suggests how we can most usefully think about constructive responses to McKibben’s question.