Youth Climate Movement Puts Ethics At The Center Of The Global Debate

Youth Climate Movement Puts Ethics At The Center Of The Global Debate Young environmentalists are putting the ethical dimensions of climate change at the center of a global debate that has historically focused on politics, efficiency and cost-benefits analysis. AP Photo/Kin Cheung

Even if you’ve never heard of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish environmentalist who crossed the Atlantic on a sailboat to attend a Sept. 23 United Nations summit on the climate, you may have seen the student-led Global Climate Strike she helped inspire on Friday, Sept. 20.

People in all 50 U.S. states and more than 150 countries, from Germany to Australia, took to the streets to “to declare a climate emergency” the organizers said, and show… politicians what action in line with climate science and justice means.“

The strike was galvanized by a global youth movement, whose Friday school walkouts over the last year were themselves inspired by Thunberg’s own three-week strike in August 2018 to demand climate action by the Swedish parliament.

People of all ages joined the global protest, though adults – with their environmental organizations, climate negotiations and election campaigns – took a little longer to gett on board. The Union of Concerned Scientists published an ”Adult’s Guide“ to the climate strike to help parents of participants get up to speed.

But the kids are clearly leading on climate change – and they’re changing the way we talk about this global challenge, putting ethics at the center of the debate.

Climate change is an ethical problem

Economic assessments of climate change, such as cost-benefit analysis, have for years helped justify political procrastination. By discounting the importance of anticipated harms to people in the future, policymakers can argue that taking actions to address climate change today are too costly.

Short-term thinking by today’s "grown-ups” ignores her generation, Thunberg says.

“When you think about the future today, you don’t think beyond the year 2050,” she said in a 2018 TED talk. “What we do or don’t do right now will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren.”

Youth climate activists argue that “our house is on fire” and insist that world leaders act accordingly. They are attuned to the ecological consequences, intergenerational implications and international unfairness of climate change for all people living today.

Scholars in my field of environmental ethics have been writing about climate justice for decades. The arguments vary, but a key conclusion is that the burdens of responding to climate change should be divided equitably – not borne primarily by the poor.

This notion of “common, but differentiated responsibilities” is a fundamental principle of equity outlined in the 1992 United Nations climate change treaty, which laid the groundwork for the many international climate negotiations that have occurred since.

Philosophers like Henry Shue have laid out the reasons that wealthy countries like the United States are morally bound not just to significantly cut their own carbon emissions but also help other countries adapt to a changing climate. That includes contributing financially to the development of climate-friendly energy sources that meet the pressing and near-term basic needs of developing countries.

Historically, wealthy countries have contributed the most and benefited the most from fossil fuel emissions. These same countries have the greatest financial, technological and institutional capacity to shift away from fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, poor countries are often most vulnerable to climate impacts like rising seas, more intense storms and eroding coastlines.

For these reasons, many environmental ethicists hold, wealthy high-emitting countries should lead the way on mitigation and finance international climate adaption. Some even argue that rich countries should compensate affected countries for the climate loss and damage.

Practical, not ethical

Political leaders tend to dodge questions of ethics in their policymaking and global debates on climate change.

According to Stephen Gardiner, a philosopher at University of Washington, climate policy often focuses on “practical” considerations like efficiency or political feasibility.

U.S. climate negotiators in particular have for decades pushed back against ethically grounded differentiated responsibilities and resisted top down mandatory emissions cuts, seeking a more politically palatable option: Voluntary emissions cuts determined by each country.

And some legal scholars say a climate policy based not on ethics but on self-interest might be more effective.

University of Chicago law professors Eric Posner and David Weisbach have gone so far as to suggest, on efficiency grounds, that developing nations should pay wealthy countries to emit less, since poorer and more vulnerable nations have more to lose as a result of the climate crisis.

The kids aren’t buying it

Young activists like Greta Thunberg are reversing the marginalization of ethics from climate conversations.

With their focus on challenging “systematic power and inequity” and respect and reciprocity, they recognize that virtually all decisions about how to respond to climate change are value judgments.

That includes inaction. The status quo – a fossil fuel-dominated energy economy – is making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Sticking with business as usual, the argument goes, places more importance on near-term benefits enjoyed by some than on the longer-term consequences many will suffer.

Polls show the youth are concerned and engaged. Youth activists are explicitly calling attention to the harm climate change is causing now and the harm it threatens for the future – and demanding action. And they are working internationally, in a global movement of solidarity.

Scholarship on climate ethics is robust, but it has had limited effects on actual policy. Young people, on the other hand, are communicating the ethical issues clearly and loudly.

In doing so, they are demanding accountability from adults. They are asking us t

About The Author

Marion Hourdequin, Professor of Philosophy, Colorado College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future

by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann
1786634295How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse. Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading? Available On Amazon

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

by Jared Diamond
0316409138Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet. Available On Amazon

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change

by Kathryn Harrison et al
0262514311Comparative case studies and analyses of the influence of domestic politics on countries' climate change policies and Kyoto ratification decisions. Climate change represents a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale, requiring the cooperation of nations that do not necessarily put the Earth's well-being above their own national interests. And yet international efforts to address global warming have met with some success; the Kyoto Protocol, in which industrialized countries committed to reducing their collective emissions, took effect in 2005 (although without the participation of the United States). Available On Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

POLITICS

Lessons From The Hockey Rink Could Help Ontario Tackle Climate Change
Lessons From The Hockey Rink Could Help Ontario Tackle Climate Change
by Jennifer Lynes and Dan Murray
The Auditor General of Ontario’s recent report found the province’s current climate change plan is not based on “sound…
Investors Fight Back Against Climate Wreckers
Investors Fight Back Against Climate Wreckers
by Paul Brown
Investors are using their shareholdings to force polluting companies to change their ways and cut carbon emissions.
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…
To Win A Climate Election, Parties Need Ambition, Not Compromise With The Fossil Fuel Industry
To Win A Climate Election, Parties Need Ambition, Not Compromise With The Fossil Fuel Industry
by Marc Hudson
The UK will go to the polls on December 12 for the third time in four years. Climate change didn’t make waves in…
Scientists’ Climate Gap Is Narrowing
Scientists’ Climate Gap Is Narrowing
by Alex Kirby
A poll shows scientists’ climate gap is shrinking − between their work on climate change and their own response to it.
Evangelicals In Brazil See Abuse Of God's Earth As A Sin – But Will They Fight To Save The Amazon?
Evangelicals In Brazil See Abuse Of God's Earth As A Sin – But Will They Fight To Save The Amazon?
by Amy Erica Smith
When the Brazilian city of São Paulo abruptly went dark at midday on Aug. 19, there was talk of the Apocalypse – not…
Can The Paris Agreement On Climate Change Succeed Without The US?
Can The Paris Agreement On Climate Change Succeed Without The US?
by Henrik Selin
On Nov. 4, the Trump administration formally notified the United Nations that it planned to withdraw the U.S. from the…
Why Climate Is The Election Priority For The Uk
Why Climate Is The Election Priority For The Uk
by Paul Brown
Britain’s general election campaign is squarely focused on the UK leaving the EU. But persuasive voices say the climate…

LATEST VIDEOS

Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…
Did Scientists Get Climate Change Wrong?
by Sabine Hossenfelder
Interview with Prof Tim Palmer from the University of Oxford.
The New Normal: Climate Change Poses Challenges For Minnesota Farmers
by KMSP-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul
Spring brought a deluge of rain in southern Minnesota and it never seemed to stop.
Report: Today's Kids' Health Will Be Imperiled by Climate Change
by VOA News
An international report from researchers at 35 institutions says climate change will threaten the health and quality of…
How Supercharged Trash Gas Could Produce More Green Energy
by InnerSelf Staff
Synthetic compounds called “siloxanes” from everyday products like shampoo and motor oil are finding their way into…
300 Million Face Severe Risk of Climate-Fueled Coastal Flooding by 2050
by Democracy Now!
As a shocking new report finds that many coastal cities will be flooded by rising sea levels by 2050, Chile’s President…
Climate Warning: California Continues To Burn, Data Estimates Of Global Flooding
by MSNBC
Ben Strauss, CEO and Chief Scientist of Climate Central joins MTP Daily to discuss alarming new information about…

LATEST ARTICLES

Racing Ice Loss Strips Greenland Of Mass
Racing Ice Loss Strips Greenland Of Mass
by Tim Radford
Greenland is shrinking, losing ice seven times faster than a generation ago. Scientists have taken a new and ominous…
Lessons From The Hockey Rink Could Help Ontario Tackle Climate Change
Lessons From The Hockey Rink Could Help Ontario Tackle Climate Change
by Jennifer Lynes and Dan Murray
The Auditor General of Ontario’s recent report found the province’s current climate change plan is not based on “sound…
Climate Change Threatens A Scary Number Of Plant Species
Climate Change Threatens A Scary Number Of Plant Species
by InnerSelf Staff
Almost 40% of global land plant species are very rare, and these species are most at risk for extinction as the climate…
How Drought Is Affecting Water Supply In Australia’s Capital Cities
How Drought Is Affecting Water Supply In Australia’s Capital Cities
by Ian Wright and Jason Reynolds
The level of water stored by Australia’s capital cities has steadily fallen over the last six years. They are now…
How Jet Stream Changes May Hit Global Breadbaskets
How Jet Stream Changes May Hit Global Breadbaskets
by Alex Kirby
Food shortages and civil disturbances may result from changes in the jet stream winds which circle the Earth,…
How To Design A Forest Fit To Heal The Planet
How To Design A Forest Fit To Heal The Planet
by Heather Plumpton
Reforestation has enormous potential as a cheap and natural way of sucking heat-absorbing carbon dioxide out of the…
Investors Fight Back Against Climate Wreckers
Investors Fight Back Against Climate Wreckers
by Paul Brown
Investors are using their shareholdings to force polluting companies to change their ways and cut carbon emissions.
Americans Are Worried About Climate Change, But Underestimate How Serious It Is
Americans Are Worried About Climate Change, But Underestimate How Serious It Is
by Bobby Duffy
The world is often better and getting better than people think. Murder rates, deaths from terrorism and extreme poverty…