Hungry for a Deal

November 16, 2009

At a three-day summit in Rome, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apparently took the position that the we need a climate deal in order to fight hunger:

“There can be no food security without climate security,” he said. “Next month in Copenhagen, we need a comprehensive agreement that will provide a firm foundation for a legally binding treaty on climate change,” he added.

This isn’t a particularly remarkable position. Hunger and the negative human impacts of climate change have been environmental justice questions for a while now. For me, at least, it does mark a risky rhetorical gambit. Most of the time, it seems to me, climate mitigation arguments are made by appeal to our own enlightened self-interest: it’s bad for us in the long run, over the long haul. But that’s not the appeal here. In this case, it’s an appeal to other obligations, like an obligation to feed the hungry.

While I agree that we do have a moral obligation to feed the hungry, many people are not settled on the reasons that we ought to do so. Some people think it is because it is selfish not to; some think it is because we are obligated to reduce misery where we encounter it; some think it is a matter of respect for humanity; some think it is politically expedient; yet still others think it is because this is what God would tell us to do. What is perplexing about the Secretary-General’s argumentative strategy is that certainly some people think that we ought not to feed the hungry precisely because doing so raises additional resource pressures on already strained systems and may further exacerbate climate change. So one must ask a question about the logic of suggesting that we ought to reach a climate deal in order to ensure that the hungry be fed.


  1. I’m wondering…how does making the planet colder help feed the hungry? If you look outside today, I’m sure you will see very little growth under the snow. It seems to me warmer temperatures and less snow (but more rain) would help feed the hungry better.

  2. Ah, but you misunderstand. We wouldn’t be making the planet colder; we’d just be allowing the planet not to be made warmer.

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