I gave a talk on the ethics of climate change last night to the good people of 10:10, “a movement of people, schools, businesses and organisations, cutting their carbon 10% at a time”. They’re in a tiny, buzzing office down a back alley in London, and from that little spot a handful of exceptional people co-ordinate the carbon-cutting activities of more than one hundred thousand individuals, thousands of businesses, schools, colleges, universities and other organisations, including 155 local councils representing over 24 million people. They’re sometimes in the Skype Hut (a soundproofing measure) liaising with other 10:10 campaigns in 40 countries. The team involved are environmental X-Men, each one with a different superpower. If you let your guard down for a second, you’ll find them inspirational.
What do you say to a roomful of committed, bright, energetic people, who are actually doing something about climate change? I trotted out some moral arguments for action on climate change – trying to do something about the thought that morality is a turn off. I hear that a lot – the claim that we ought to find reasons other than moral ones for fighting climate change. Maybe we should talk about energy independence or saving money instead. You can read the talk here, but it is informal, not a careful piece for a journal.
It got me thinking about moral revolutions. There are moments in human history when the stars line up and people insist on something else entirely, largely or anyway partly because they think that it’s right. Think of the end of slavery in the US, campaigns against child labour or in favour of suffrage. Think of the Arab Spring and the part of that motivated by the thought that autonomy is right and despotism is wrong. I wonder what it is that shifts moral talk from irritating moralising that no one wants to hear, to a reason for standing in front of a tank.