On Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 I attended a lecture by Dr. Dale Jamieson, director of environmental studies at New York University, on “The Moral and Political Challenges of Climate Change” at the University of North Florida.
Dr. Jamieson noted at both the beginning and end of his lecture that the nature of global climate change presents an almost insoluble problem. He gave a brief overview of the scientific findings over the past century including the work of Drs. Arrhenius (i.) and Plass.(ii.) He went on to quote oceanographer Roger Revelle and geophysicist Hans Suess stating that by releasing the large quantities of carbon previously stored in fossil fuels into the atmosphere, humans are conducting a giant geophysical experiment without considering the results.(iii.) There is much evidence to suggest that climate change is caused by man, and groups such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have concluded that this is the case.(iv.) Nevertheless, Dr. Jamieson would not acknowledge that there are literally hundreds of other reputable climatologists from respected universities who discount the theory that human beings are making a significant impact upon the earth’s climate. (V.) He did note that the progression of climate change would not be affected for over a thousand years even if action to reverse the process were to begin to be taken today.
In the second part of his lecture, Dr. Jamieson discussed the reasons why the governments of the world have failed to address the issue of catastrophic global climate change. These included not recognizing or reacting appropriately to the seriousness of the issue, technical hurdles, the sheer complexity of the problem and its causes, its encompassing vastness, and the extensive time periods to be considered when dealing with it. It must also be considered to be the largest collective action project ever undertaken, having both inter-generational and intra-generational components. Dr. Jamieson suggests that there are two possible ways of dealing with such a project: by a privative individual response which to his mind is out of the question, and conversely by a moralistic global approach which is problematic because of reasons described above. It is his feeling however, that improvements in science may be able to help to bridge the gap.
Pointed in his criticism of democratic governments’ inability to deal with the problem of climate change, Dr. Jamieson listed several failings including hyper partisanship, a bias favoring the status quo, the relatively short time horizon of most administrations, competition from other pressing issues, and capitalistic corporate dominance of the political landscape. He also noted that democratic governments act in the interests of those governed rather than governing in the interests of those affected. One might be led to conclude from Dr. Jamieson’s comments that a government whose authority encompassed the entire world would be better able to act in the interest of all who would be affected. But it seems to me that governments, democratic or otherwise, tend to act in the self-interest of those that are doing the governing, considering first how they may be affected rather than considering those whom they have the responsibility of governing. In any case, Dr. Jamieson did not offer an alternative as to what form of government would be more effective in dealing with global change. He did offer the suggestions that we strive to become more “empathic across boundaries of space time and even species, revise our ideas of justice and moral responsibility, and reconsider the answer to the question: What is the good life?” (vi.)
As noted previously Dr. Jamieson reiterated that global climate change presents an almost insoluble problem. In view of that, he recommended that we learn to cope with change, recognizing that change is not the same as sacrifice. Climate change is already occurring and he is of the opinion that we have failed and will fail to address the issue; human ingenuity and market forces being ultimately unable to provide an answer. What remains to be seen, he says, is how we will cope with failure and what we will learn through it. Dr. Jamieson concluded his lecture by stating that the “greenhouse world we are beginning to enter will mark the end of an epoch. The question is whether it will mark a new beginning.” As for myself I remain unsure that catastrophic global climate change is of real concern. However, if it should be a reality, would some form of global governance be necessary to solve the problem? Dr. Jamieson believes that such a government is inevitable. Nevertheless, should a global government based on principles other than limited representative democracy arise; one that is able to control the climate and the wind and the waves and restore the earth to a veritable ecological paradise, the question that I think still remains unanswered is, “Will anyone want to live there?
i. Svante Arrhenius (1859 – 1927) Swedish physicist
ii. Gilbert N. Plass (1921-2004) Canadian physicist
iii. Jamieson, Dale. 1996. “Ethics and Intentional Climate Change”. Climatic Change. 33, No. 3: 323.
iv. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Internet website. v. http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf
International Climate Science Coalition. Internet Website. http://www.climatescienceinternational.org/
vi. One possible answer is the song; The Good Life. Words by Jack Reardon and Music by Sascha Distel. Featured on the soundtrack of the 1962 Italian-French film “Seven Deadly Sins” The classic Tony Bennett version may be downloaded at: http://www.amazon.com/The-Good-Life-Single-Version/dp/B00137R9PS/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1264888746&sr=1-3-fkmr0”