Values and the Warsaw climate talks

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!


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Bartitsu on Sunday Brunch

sunday brunchMy 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.

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Review of John Broome

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.

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John Corvino on same sex marriage

Providence College, a Roman Catholic institution in Rhode Island, recently cancelled a talk on same sex marriage by John Corvino, head of philosophy at Wayne State University.  Here’s a bit from New York Times on the matter (the whole article is here).

Providence College, a Roman Catholic school in Rhode Island, has canceled a lecture in support of same-sex marriage on Thursday by a gay philosophy professor, citing a church document that says that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

The college apparently re-invited him, following loud objections, and Corvino’s reply is here.

The current issue of The Philosophers’ Magazine features a piece by Corvino on same sex marriage, and as his views are muffled elsewhere, it might be good to give them a hearing.  Here’s the article. The comments are open at talking philosophy.

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Dunwich Dynamo

PICT6958Here’s a short blog post for the Guardian: Pedaling Through the Night on the Dunwich Dynamo.  In a sentence, around 2,000 cyclists on everything from road bikes to tandems show up at a pub in Hackney around 8 pm and ride through the night, unsupported, about 120 miles on mostly dark country roads to Dunwich on the Suffolk Coast.  Here’s more info from Southwark Cyclists.  It’s the furthest I’ve ever cycled, and it was an amazing, beautiful, challenging ride.  I managed it in 13 and a half hours or so.

There’s the obvious question: why?  I think probably it is an objectively ridiculous thing to do, but then again so is almost all sport.  You’ve got to get this ball in that hole over there, but you can’t walk over and drop it in — you have to start here and use these sticks and try to hit it in.  Almost all sporting endeavors are weird like this, it’s just that you’re more used to them than long distance cycling.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Bartitsu at Fenton House

Garvey Buchan bartitsuBartitsu is called many things:  the West’s first mixed martial art, the fighting style of Sherlock Holmes, the Victorian gentleman’s martial art.  It was assembled from boxing, savate, cane fighting and jiu jitsu by Edward William Barton-Wright and taught in London around the start of the twentieth century.  It then more or less vanished.  Barton-Wright left some detailed instructions and photos behind, and lately game enthusiasts have resurrected the style.  For more have a look at the Bartitsu Society’s site or Tony Wolf’s indispensable The Bartitsu Compendium.

Some friends from the UCL Jitsu Club and I got together to demonstrate a little bartitsu at the Idler Garden Party last weekend — an afternoon of diversions against the backdrop of Fenton House in Hampstead.  It was an enormous amount of fun.  We had the slightly weird but pleasant experience of drinking gin, listening to a ukulele lesson, hearing a philosophy lecture, and throwing each other around in the grass — not in that order.

Some of the movements in bartitsu are instantly recognizable to people who do martial arts today, but other techniques, if you’ll pardon the pun, throw us a little — ‘Why did Barton-Wright do it that way?’ we wonder.  But of course, he was nearer the Japanese source than we are now, so we pay attention to his way of doing things.  It’s a little like martial arts archaeology, and so far it’s been hugely rewarding.

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Reputational Risk

Here’s a short interview from an event called Reuptational Risk Drivers for the Insurance Industry, at the Swiss Re Centre for Global Dialogue.  ‘Reputational Risk’ is an unfortunate name, but those attending meant much more than merely whitewashing or, as one put it, corporate social responsibility as ‘business as usual, but plant some trees too’.  Getting into moral trouble is a risk to a business’s reputation, but the motivation for doing the right thing ought to go much deeper than this — and I think, for those speaking and attending the event, it certainly does.

On the ground, it’s complicated.  For example, you might think that a company ought to have no dealings at all with businesses which operate in places with dubious human rights records.  I’m inclined to agree, but I met people who talked about the moral value of sometimes engaging with such businesses with a view to changing them for the better, improving conditions and pay and prospects generally for workers.  They’re asking hard questions —  walking away from some profitable deals rather than run the risk of making a moral mistake.  Taking part in the event was certainly eye-opening for me.

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