Here’s an extract from a piece for The European, on ethics and the Warsaw talks on climate change.
Instead of starting with the fact of the planet’s climate budget or even the history of emissions, we should start with thoughts about values. What matters to us, and what are we prepared to do for it? Is it simply money or do the lives of future generations matter? Are we prepared to pay something now to improve the lives of future people, a payment we know we’ll never get back? Or do we want cheap energy, and are we willing to harm the poor for it?
As George W. Bush said when opting out of the Kyoto treaty, ‘complying with those mandates would have a negative economic impact, with layoffs for workers and price increases for consumers.’ He might have been pointy-headed but at least he was clear. What leads to the bickering in climate talks, what keeps our sights low, what ends negotiations in deadlocks, walkouts, and half measures, is the thought that taking action on climate change would cost too much. Ignoring the history of emissions would be a mistake, but a worse mistake is allowing economic concerns to swamp moral ones.
You can read the whole thing here: Do The Right Thing!
My associate Mr Cook and I took pleasure in demonstrating a bit of Bartitsu, the Victorian gentleman’s martial art, on Sunday Brunch on Channel 4. You can watch the demo here.
We were slightly hamstrung by lawyers, no doubt rightly concerned about showing anything too energetic on Sunday morning television. It all went fine though, I think. If you’re interested in Bartitsu, I’m teaching an introductory course at the Idler right now. You can book in here.
I wrote a review of John Broome’s book, Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World, for the TLS, called ‘Justice for a Dollar A Day’. It’s here if you’re a subscriber. The headline comes from Broome’s surprising views about justice and goodness. Here’s an extract from the review:
Surprisingly, Broome argues that goodness doesn’t demand much of us as individuals. You could throw yourself at reducing your carbon footprint, spend your savings on a yurt and a sustainable life, but you’d do much more good, extend many more lives, by simply donating some money to help combat tuberculosis. If you want to do something good, reducing your emissions is an ineffective choice. On the other hand, governments really do have the power and resources to make a difference to the climate. Duties of goodness fall exclusively on them.
Individuals should think instead about justice. Broome cites the World Health Organization’s estimate that the lifetime emissions of an average person in the West will wipe out more than six months of healthy human life. We’re all doing serious harm, and justice demands that we reduce our carbon footprints to zero. Broome argues that we should do all the usual environmentally friendly things – don’t waste water, be frugal with energy – and then cancel out our remaining emissions by offsetting, paying for the removal of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere equal to our emissions. For an average American this adds up to just $300 per year – your obligations to justice discharged for less than a dollar a day. It’s a bold claim, as many environmentalists are incapable of discussing offsetting without mentioning the sale of indulgences. Broome finds the usual objections wanting.
It’s a good book, I think. Well worth reading.