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Ethics in Climate Change

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I think I can briefly simplify our climate plight:   After learning the situation, Ethics is our salvation.

   ( Drat!   that seems so simple, yet also desperate. )

Progressively destabilizing climate warming is the perfect storm for our civilization, and it is closing faster.   Studies report increasing rates of change that truncates the calendar - making the decades more important than the century view.

The science is locked solid - with very grim scenarios.   If the world continues business-as-usual living, the climate models say that full extinction is quite possible — and lacking any mitigation - extinction is assured.  Our serious efforts at adaptation may permit survival but will not let our children escape serious privation and suffering.   This is a problem far more daunting than mere politics can solve.   


Here is where we stand:
All this is no surprise.  We carry the burden of having seen this coming.

  • Climate scientists have been emasculated.   Their alarms ignored.
  • Congress and governments are corrupted and blind, having lost all leadership
  • Big business values and finance work to force climate issues deep into the background.
  • The legal world requires a contract dispute or constitutional challenges to awaken and face the issue
  • Fossil fuel industries of coal and oil secretly promote and foster any fantasy or magical delusion to retain their business lock.
  • Geo-engineering is the vapor-ware deus ex machina that permits continued day-dreaming.
  • Affluent citizens are struck by cognitive dissonance and further habituated by the euphoria of carbon consumerism. 
  • Finally, our children and students are becoming aware of the problem but are yet unskilled at displaying an authentic response.

video: Dr James Hansen speaks at the the UO Law School about Moral, Political and Legal issues of Climate Change.

After ranting, arguing science, and projecting economics -  our discussion now is reduced to ethics and values.
First we might ask whether certain knowledge compels responsibility to act.  One can argue right and wrong - but physical laws are absolute - even as we try to deny them.   Gravity pulls down even the skeptics.   
Ultimately, the ethical argument of  “What do we owe the future?”  trumps all other discussion.
When we know that actions today condemn our species to extinction - then what do we do?.
When acts of the ignorant harm the future, then what actions do we take?

The ethical values of our species will frame choices and enable action.

Richard Pauli
Oct 2010

July 4th, 2010

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On this holiday we offer patriotic rhetoric to honor the American Revolution - indeed one of the most significant, enduring and purposeful changes to human civilization. 

Part of our ceremony is to remember and rededicate ourselves to change as we prepare for future struggles.

In years and decades to come, humanity will perform a heroic drama played out against the physical reality of global warming and a progressively destabilizing climate. This epic struggle will be greater than the American Revolution, greater than any historical campaign or war. 

Anthropogenic global warming has built the perfect storm that has become the tumultuous, dramatic core conflict for now and for generations hence.  The looming battle for our species survival -  will be greater, more chaotic and tumultuous than any other human campaign, bigger than any 3D movie, video game, World Cup, Superbowl, D-Day, Manhattan Project, Polio vaccine, IT revolution, or falling Berlin wall.  It trumps all.

But right now we are distracted and lured into the false dramas of partisan economics and pop-jingoism.   Petty tyrants annoy and distract us from this true existentialist struggle.  We are not yet awakened to the alarm, not yet stirred to battle.  Our enemy is not science.   Our struggle is not military, although we may launch military campaigns.  It is not political - although it requires a unified body politic,  Our struggle is with ourselves as we decide whether to actively control our future or surrender to the relentless threats to human life. 

Although our American Revolution was tumultuously violent, the political off-spring has been the art of peaceful compromise.   The physical science of our changing world is an increasingly harsh reality that permits no political compromise.  We cannot sue for peace, we  can only examine and adjust to our situation. 

Once again, our revolutionary battle is to decide whether to impose adaptive change or accept subjugation.

Richard Pauli
July 4th 2010