What We DoNovember 13, 2009
In a recent post, Roger commented on a paper that was authored by his father and a team of many others. I find the conclusions of his father’s paper interesting, maybe because I’m missing something. (Am I missing something?) There’s a whole chicken-coop of shitstorms brewing over this paper, but I fail to see what’s so controversial.
For one thing, the idea that there are multiple anthropogenic causes of global climate variability strikes me as nothing new. As a non-specialist, I feel like this has been the narrative for a long time. I don’t know the scientific controversy surrounding this, so I’ll refrain from commenting on that. But isn’t it reasonable to show the many, many anthropogenic reasons why our earth is warming? Why is this controversial in any way?
Is it that it challenges the conclusions of the IPCC? Is it that it is perceived to threaten global climate policy? Is it that it’s not true that there are other causes of global climate change?
From what I gather, it’s some combination of these. What’s at issue is the extent to which policy prescriptions practically follow from (as opposed to “reasonably follow from” or “are conceptually distinct from”) the scientific conclusions. Clearly it’s the case that our public policies should be responding to the actual state of affairs. At the same time, it’s also true that our public policies can be structured to handle several anthropogenic causes at once. If GHGs, or land use, or biochar, or aerosols, or my dad’s stinky socks, are contributing factors to global climate change, then it seems to me reasonable that we should adopt broad-reaching policies that address each of these various causes.
For a long time the thrust of environmentalism was concern over the things that we do, mostly related to wilderness areas. As an ethicist, this is precisely what concerns me: what we do, and whether it’s right or wrong, permissible or impermissible, morally complex or morally simple. I have no particular commitment to carbon, or to SO2, NO2 or even H2O. It’s all twater to me.
In recent years, the environmental movement, as well as the environmental policy community, has gotten caught up in the climate discussion. In doing so, it has left other important environmental issues off the table. If GHG emissions contribute disproportionately to climate change, and climate change will make or break all of these other major issues regarding forests and oceans and wildlife, maybe that’s as it should be. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder why we shouldn’t also be concerned about the multiple other factors at well. We should, shouldn’t we? All the more so if they are contributing factors to climate variability.