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Climate Ethics

December 11, 2009

Time Magazine has just done a nice piece responding to Todd Stern’s bald rejection of the notion of a climate debt the other day. Friend and former colleague Dale Jamieson gets a nod:

“The impact of emitting greenhouse gases will go on for a millennium or more,” said Dale Jamieson, an environmental ethicist at New York University, in a speech last year. “It’s as if I stood on your foot for a while. It hurts, but when I take my foot off you, the pain gets worse and goes on longer. That’s the kind of problems we deal with in climate change, and that’s why we need to act sooner rather than later.”

As does Don Brown, who organized the contingent of ethicists here at COP through his outfit at Penn State University:

“Ethics says that those who cause the problem must take responsibility for compensating for the damages,” says Donald Brown, director of the Collaborative Program on Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change at Penn State University. “It’s unfair and unethical to deny that responsibility.”

We held a presser this morning. More on that in a bit.

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15 comments

  1. I’m so comforted by the fact that statistically challenged ethicists are ready to explain white man’s guilt for bringing the world out of the dark ages

    how yummy


    • it’s unprecedented and were all gonna die


      • windy,

        Besides the fact that the ‘hockey stick’ visible in GISP2 reconstructions cuts off about 1905, what the geniuses at WUWT have also failed to mention in their non-comparison of recent global temperature rise to Central Greenland proxy reconstructions is that Central Greenland temperatures in the 20th century have risen by approximately 3C compared to averaged GST rise of approx. 0.8C.

        You might (though, given long standing evidence to the contrary, doubtfully) learn something about consilience of evidence by looking at this independent reconstruction of global Holocene temperatures.

        Again I ask, why do you so unskeptically accept, with such religious fervor, such easily refuted false representations of fact?


      • LB: can you elaborate a bit, or link to some things? I’m curious.

        I guess my reply would be that it’s pretty well known that the earth has been through terrific upheavals in the past; but just because that’s true doesn’t at all excuse us for our behavior now.


      • Ben,

        I have made some inferences.

        Here is the GISP2 data used by WUWT:

        http://tiny.cc/FFApF

        Note it begins at 0.0951409 thousand years BP or ~95 years before 2000.

        Here is a map comparing 1999-2009 to the 1890-1920 climatological mean (centered on 2005):

        http://tiny.cc/i6wP8

        Note that zonal mean anomaly at ~75° N (GISP2 is at 72.58° N) is ~2.5C. Note also that the 2-4C red zone on the map dips south over Greenland.

        Additionally, the GISP2 site is at 3205 m (10,515 ft) elevation. Research using the PRISM model has shown generally (for lower latitudes) higher climate anomalies at higher elevations (the Greenland and environs projection is made using stations near sea level).

        In the absence of proper analysis, I don’t think a 3C approximation for the top of the Greenland icecap is unreasonable, though at least 2.5C to possibly more than 3.0C would be more honest, I confess.


      • Ben

        Ludicrous is confused, the post 1900 temps have been added to the individual graphs (in video above) at WUWT and it makes no diference when you see the hockey stick in the context of time, it’s an insignificant squiggle that shows current warming is no big deal

        http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/12/12/historical-video-perspective-our-current-unprecedented-global-warming-in-the-context-of-scale/#more-14034

        The are the only 2 stations in the GISS database that have long-term data starting prior to 1930 and continuing to the present (plots show annual mean temperature anomaly data and include 2008 data):

        http://www.appinsys.com/GlobalWarming/RS_Greenland.htm

        “Almost all decades between 1915 and 1965 were warmer or at least as warm as the 1995 to 2005 decade…suggesting the current warm Greenland climate is not unprecedented and that similar temperatures were a norm in the first half the 20th century. … no statistically significant difference between the average temperature from the 1905 to the 1955 period and 1955 to 2005 period,” the only difference being that summertime (JJA) average temperatures were warmer at both stations during the 1905-1955 period. Further, although the decade 1920-1930 was as warm as the decade 1995-2005, the rate of warming was “50% higher” during the earlier decade.”

        “Although there has been a considerable temperature increase during the last decade (1995 to 2005) a similar increase and at a faster rate occurred during the early part of the 20th century (1920 to 1930) when carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases could not be a cause”

        Chylek et al. 2006. “Greenland Warming of 1920-1930 and 1995-2005

        “Almost all decades between 1915 and 1965 were warmer or at least as warm as the 1995 to 2005 decade…suggesting the current warm Greenland climate is not unprecedented and tha t similar temperatures were a norm in the first half the 20th century. … no statistically significant difference between the average temperature from the 1905 to the 1955 period and 1955 to 2005 period,” the only difference being that summertime (JJA) average temperatures were warmer at both stations during the 1905-1955 period. Further, although the decade 1920-1930 was as warm as the decade 1995-2005, the rate of warming was “50% higher” during the earlier decade.”


      • Ludicrous[sic] is confused, the post 1900 temps have been added to the individual graphs (in video above)

        I’m not confused, windy, but you, apparently, are blind. Put on your reading glasses, get yourself a straightedge and look closer. They all cut off at the end of the 19th century. Furthermore, the source you provide confirms Southern Greenland(≈65°N) near sea level temps are >2C warmer in the most recent decade than at the beginning of the 20th Century. The decade 1900-1909 average is ≈-.65C; 1999-2008, ≈+0.5C. Much of the late 19th and early 20th century warming in Greenland is due to a spike in industrial black carbon that in the early 50s markedly dropped to earlier levels, well documented in the ice cores. Why haven’t Greenland temperatures followed suit?


      • Pardon my error,

        “1999-2008, ≈+0.5C.” should read, “1999-2008, ≈+1.5C.”


      • Lude

        WUWT added 20th century temps in red to the individual graphs that make the video if you’d bother to check the link, doesn’t matter anyway

        the hockey stick and current warming are insignificant blips when you go back in history

        my ruler sees a 3 C drop from the 30’s to the 80’s

        so what

        cherry picking is easy


    • You’ll be pleased to note, Windsea, that I’m not persuaded by the “we’re gonna die” line of argument:

      https://cruelmistress.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/the-calamity-frame/

      Even if we’re not gonna die, we’d better do something to clean up our act.


  2. “Ethics says that those who cause the problem must take responsibility for compensating for the damages,”

    Ok fine, if you guys cause a global economic meltdown with your unproven theory, and it turns out that natural forcings dominate the climate you’ll pay us all back right?


  3. windandsea,

    Your grasp of economics is as weak as your grasp of physics. One cannot focus on costs without also considering risks, benefits and return on investment.


  4. I think that the ethical debt is there, but reality prevents the US from paying the kind of compensation that an abstract look at this would indicate.

    The idea that the US can or realistically will pay for China to transition straight to clean energy and bypassing the fossil fuels era just doesn’t jive with the indebted nature of the US economy, at almost all levels. Particularly since a lot of this would be paid to the entity we already owe so much to.

    Maybe the US can pay something to small countries that are threatened with going under the waves. And every effort for non-cash assistance to China should be made.

    But it seems to me that in the real world, China will take the needed steps if and when enough of its leadership decides that the costs for not doing so outweigh the costs for doing so. There are a lot of poor people in China, but China is not a poor country.

    This is often true of aggrieved parties. They can describe how their predicament is due to the action of others. But in many cases, bettering or fixing their own situation has to be from their own actions as not all wrongs can or will be paid for. China above all should understand this since they know that for the US to pay them hundreds of billions could impact the debt we already have with them.



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