After Greta Thunberg's UN Address, An Ethicist Weighs In On Our Moral Failure To Act On Climate Change

After Greta Thunberg's Un Address, An Ethicist Weighs In On Our Moral Failure To Act On Climate Change
Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks as she takes part during the Climate Strike in New York. Tens of thousands of protesters joined rallies on Sept. 20 as a day of worldwide demonstrations calling for action against climate change. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

In her address to the United Nations, Greta Thunberg charged adults with unforgivable moral failure. By failing to enact real change that will reverse global warming trends, grown-ups, she said, have “stolen my dreams and childhood.”

With this accusation still ringing in our ears, many of us, and maybe parents especially, are asking: who is actually morally responsible for averting catastrophic climate change?

The message from the striking school children is: we all do. In ethical terms, theirs is a forward-looking account of moral responsibility, not a backward-looking one. What matters most, they say, is not that leaders communicate their concern about global warming or apologize for past and present fossil-fuel-intensive policies.

Instead, what matters is that concerted actions be taken now to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels and to chart the path forward to a net zero-emission future. It is our shared political responsibility, they say, to urgently demand the policy changes needed to slow the rate of global warming and protect the planet’s ecosystems.

A moral responsibility

This call to collective moral and political responsibility is exactly right. As individuals, we can all be held accountable for helping to stop the undeniable environmental harms around us and the catastrophic threat posed by rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Those of us with a degree of privilege and influence have an even greater responsibility to assist and advocate on behalf of those most vulnerable to the effects of global warming.

This group includes children everywhere whose futures are uncertain at best, terrifying at worst. It also includes those who are already suffering from severe weather events and rising water levels caused by global warming, and communities dispossessed by fossil fuel extraction. Indigenous peoples around the globe whose lands and water systems are being confiscated and polluted in the search for ever more sources of oil, gas and coal are owed our support and assistance. So are marginalized communities displaced by mountaintop removal and destructive dam energy projects, climate refugees and many others.

The message of climate activists is that we can’t fulfil our responsibilities simply by making green choices as consumers or expressing support for their cause. The late American political philosopher Iris Young thought that we could only discharge our “political responsibility for injustice,” as she put it, through collective political action.

The interests of the powerful, she warned, conflict with the political responsibility to take actions that challenge the status quo — but which are necessary to reverse injustices.

As the striking school children and older climate activists everywhere have repeatedly pointed out, political leaders have so far failed to enact the carbon emissions reduction policies that are so desperately needed. Despite UN Secretary General António Guterres’ sombre words of warning at the Climate Action Summit, the UN is largely powerless in the face of governments that refuse to enact meaningful carbon-reducing policies, such as China and the U.S.

Like social movements before them, the striking school children recognize that our leaders cannot be relied upon to change unsustainable policies in the key sectors of energy, transportation and housing. Only massive public pressure can cause them to do so — and this requires collective political action of the kind we’ve seen during the week of global protests.

Too little, too late?

The oil, gas and coal lobbies are powerful opponents that have the ear of politicians in the top polluting countries. Canada, which ranks as the world’s sixth largest energy consumer, is no exception. While the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act passed in 2018 follows the fee-and-dividend approach that climate change scientists and economists have called for, its future is precarious — especially in this election year.

And it may be too little too late. Canada’s emissions in 2018 were seven per cent higher than in 1997, the year in which we signed the Kyoto Protocol. It will take aggressive action to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest — the goal that climate change scientists say we must achieve.

The massive turnout for climate action demonstrations around the world may not be in vain. The federal Liberals have announced they will commit to the 2050 net zero-emissions target if they are re-elected.

But meeting this target will require a dramatic reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels and accelerated investment in alternative, clean energy sources and infrastructure. This would most certainly require reversing plans for a Trans Mountain Pipeline, for starters. Given the formidable opponents — the oil, gas and coal industries — the kids are right that we all need to step up to our collective political responsibility if we are to achieve what’s needed to stop climate change.

About the Author

Monique Deveaux, Professor of Philosophy and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Ethics & Global Social Change, University of Guelph

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

books_activism

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

POLITICS

How Dystopian Narratives Can Incite Real-world Radicalism
How Dystopian Narratives Can Incite Real-World Radicalism
by Calvert Jones and Celia Paris
Humans are storytelling creatures: the stories we tell have profound implications for how we see our role in the world,…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Violent Weather Rises Spur More Political Conflict
Violent Weather Rises Spur More Political Conflict
by Tim Radford
Violent weather – seasonal storms, floods, fires and droughts – is growing more extreme, more often.
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
India Finally Takes Climate Crisis Seriously
by Nivedita Khandekar
With financial losses and a heavy death toll from climate-related disasters constantly rising, India is at last…
Russia Moves To Exploit Arctic Riches
Russia Moves To Exploit Arctic Riches
by Paul Brown
As the polar sea ice vanishes faster, Russia unveils plans to exploit Arctic riches: fossil fuel deposits, minerals and…
Will Billionaire Climate Philanthropists Always Be Part Of The Problem
Will Billionaire Climate Philanthropists Always Be Part Of The Problem
by Heather Alberro
Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and the richest man alive, recently made headlines after pledging to donate $10 billion to a new…
Schools For Girls Can Help To Answer Climate Crisis
Schools For Girls Can Help To Answer Climate Crisis
by Alex Kirby
Educating both halves of humankind seems a no-brainer. Schools for girls could transform climate protection − and so…
To Prepare Climate Strikers For The Future, We Need To Rewrite The History Books
To Prepare Climate Strikers For The Future, We Need To Rewrite The History Books
by Amanda Power
If radical action to reduce emissions isn’t taken in the next decade or so, many of today’s schoolchildren could live…

LATEST VIDEOS

Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
by Johnna Crider
Plains, Georgia, is a small town that is just south of Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta and north of Albany. It is the…
Majority of US Adults Believe Climate Change Is Most Important Issue Today
by American Psychological Association
As the effects of climate change become more evident, more than half of U.S. adults (56%) say climate change is the…
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
by Mangulina Jan Fichtner, et al
A silent revolution is happening in investing. It is a paradigm shift that will have a profound impact on corporations,…

LATEST ARTICLES

Heatwaves Too Hot And Wet For Human Life Are Here
Heatwaves Too Hot And Wet For Human Life Are Here Now
by Tim Radford
Lethal heatwaves carrying air turned too hot and wet to survive are a threat which has arrived, thanks to climate…
How Dangerous Is Low-level Radiation To Children?
How Dangerous Is Low-level Radiation To Children?
by Paul Brown
A rethink on the risks of low-level radiation would imperil the nuclear industry’s future − perhaps why there’s never…
What We Do Now Could Change Earth's Trajectory
What We Do Now Could Change Earth's Trajectory
by Pep Canadell, et al
The numbers of people cycling and walking in public spaces during COVID-19 has skyrocketed.
Marine Heatwaves Spell Trouble For Tropical Reef Fish — Even Before Corals Die
Marine Heatwaves Spell Trouble For Tropical Reef Fish — Even Before Corals Die
by Jennifer M.T. Magel and Julia K. Baum
Despite the many challenges facing the world’s oceans today, coral reefs remain strongholds of marine biodiversity.
Warnings of Worse-Than-Usual Hurricane Season Point to Trouble Ahead
Warnings of Worse-Than-Usual Hurricane Season Point to Trouble Ahead
by Eoin Higgins
Hurricane season is about to start and its risks will only grow and potentially compound any impacts from the pandemic.
Australia, It's Time To Talk About Our Water Emergency
Australia, It's Time To Talk About Our Water Emergency
by Quentin Grafton et al
There’s another climate change influence we must also face up to: increasingly scarce water on our continent.
Fossil Fuels Are Heading Down, But Not Yet Out
Fossil Fuels Are Heading Down, But Not Yet Out
by Kieran Cooke
Renewable energy is making rapid inroads into the market, but fossil fuels still wield enormous global influence.
Human Action Will Decide How Much Sea Levels Rise
Human Action Will Decide How Much Sea Levels Rise
by Tim Radford
Sea levels will go on rising, because of human action. By how much, though, depends on what humans do next.