James Hansen declares climate change a moral issue on par with slavery. I think it's more profound, since the future of humanity is at stake. Slavery can be halted quickly and its effects reversed in a few generations. Once we render the planet uninhabitable for everyone, humanity's trajectory is uncorrectable. Even if we somehow manage to stop our destructive actions, feedback mechanisms will have been kicked into place and irreversible damage done such as species extinctions.

Nasa scientist: climate change is a moral issue on a par with slavery

Averting the worst consequences of human-induced climate change is a "great moral issue" on a par with slavery, according to the leading Nasaclimate scientist Prof Jim Hansen.

Averting the worst consequences of human-induced climate change is a "great moral issue" on a par with slavery, according to the leading Nasaclimate scientist Prof Jim Hansen.

Hansen told the Guardian that the latest climate models had shown the planet was on the brink of an emergency.

"The situation we're creating for young people and future generations is that we're handing them a climate system which is potentially out of their control," he said.

I use the term "Climate Destabilization" rather than "Climate Change" because it's more accurate (less vague and less ambiguous) and carries an appropriate normative force.

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I have been collecting books on this subject. 

James Hansen has one, STORMS OF MY GRANDCHILDREN, in which he sketches out a worst-case scenario, where the positive feedbacks of melting permafrost and melting undersea methane clathrates (and lesser ones like the effects of widespread desertification) combine to make a runaway greenhouse like Venus; not as hot as Venus but hot enough to make the seas simmer. He considers this scenario unlikely but possible; it is a small but real risk.

Peter Ward has a couple of books. In UNDER A GREEN SKY he lays out a scenario that he thinks may have been played out during the Permian extinction, and which he fears ma play out again under severe global warming. It is a complex chain of events; the "global conveyor" ocean current halts, the ocean bottoms become stagnant, then anoxic. The boundary between the oxygen-free deep waters and the still-oxygenated surface water rises toward the surface, and when it gets close enough to the surface to receive some sunlight, sulfur-dioxide-producing bacteria begin to grow; the water turns purple, and bubbles of sulfur-dioxide begin to rise to the atmosphere. eventually, with all the sea generating sulfur-dioxide, the sky turns green, and the air has enough sulfur-dioxide in it to seriously trouble life on land. 

I confess I don't recall the particular contents of some other books on my shelves; Fred Pearce, WITH SPPED AND VIOLENCE, Peter Ward, THE FLOODED EARTH, Bill McKibben, EAARTH. 

Overall point, even if the "worst-case" scenarios don't happen, the "less-worse" cases are bad enough to end our civilization and reduce humankind to a small remnant population scrambling to feed themselves. 

Under a Green Sky and Eaarth have both been influential for me, John. Thanks for the other references.

One MIT study predicted we'd have a little more time before the Venus effect would kick in than Peter Ward thought. Sorry I lost the reference.


Here's a study recently completed by MIT which, as the article notes, found the same results as a paper done 40 years ago. By 2030, we seem headed for what may be only the first of a global collapse economically as well as in population as our consumption of resources eventually hits its unsustainable wall.


Thanks for this discussion Ruth, and for your response John. This is obviously such an important issue (much more so that whether one eats meat or not, though that plays its role in climate destabilization as well), and yet we are doing nothing. NOTHING. We knew this was going to happen 40 years ago and we did nothing. We have maybe less than 20 years left and still we do nothing. Granted, resource management and climate destabilization are not the same thing, but essentially they are both due to unsustainable living practices. And you know what? The US is the primary culprit, for climate destabilization if not for aggravating the conditions which lead to unsustainable use of resources. And just when we need political organization the most, our political sphere is in a complete shambles. The super-rich are the one's who are by far doing the most damage, and they are also the ones in the best position to do something about it, and yet it is not in their absurdly short-sighted interests to do anything about it. Meanwhile, we can't elect someone who is NOT bought by these very same people. One can't say too much about this sad state of affairs, but the simple truth is that when we do eventually reach a catastrophe, the rest of the world will rightly point their fingers squarely at America and blame us both for what we have done and for what he have not. We are all implicated, either by action or inaction. The rest of the world looks to us for leadership, and where are we leading them? Right to the abyss.

Franz Matzner agrees with you Jedi Wanderer, that

The super-rich are the one's who are by far doing the most damage, and they are also the ones in the best position to do something about it,...

Some will argue that if burning fossil fuels is ethically wrong, then we’re all collectively guilty.  It’s either no one’s fault or everyone’s.   At a certain transcendent level, there is some truth to that.

There are those, however, whose actions have far more sweeping impact and it is on these actors that the true focus must fall.  It’s a matter of scale.  Their choices carry greater weight, so their level of culpability is that much starker.  The consumer who bought clothes made from cotton during the slave-era bore less responsibility than the plantation owner or the politician who led the charge against abolition.  Factory owners who fought child-labor laws were more culpable than consumers who bought a product from the factory—especially if they had no other option.  It is no different with fossil fuels.  The driver with no access to mass transit who fills his tank to get to work in the morning can shoulder only so much responsibility.  The oil company executive who signs off on a campaign denying climate science is committing a grave choice and is fully responsible. 

Two recent NRDC reports illustrate the point in concrete terms. Some utilities chose to respect the Clean Air Act and modernize, resulting in significant cuts in dangerous pollution, while others chose to spend millions and file lawsuits in an effort to keep pumping pollution into our communities.   In a similar vein, it’s often those same voices of power that spend millions to shift responsibility to the public.

The same choice played out in Congress repeatedly last year.  Voting on whether to uphold or tear down children’s right to breathe clean air, Senators from the same state, representing the same people, with access to the same facts chose different paths.

The point here is that powerful individuals -- CEOs, legislators, politicians—all have a clear choice to make.  There is no insurmountable, magical hand forcing corporate CEOs, politicians, and business owners to keep polluting.

It’s a matter of ethics, the stakes are incredibly high, and no one should shy away from holding those accountable who continue to inflict suffering instead of combating it. [emphasis mine]

Climate Change SOS: Which Side Are You On

Is there a climate change (destabilization) group on A|N yet?

There are discussions about climate destabilization on Eco-Logical and there's a new group Climate Concerns.

In What climate change is really about Doug Craig introduces a book where many important figures argue the moral grounds of sustainablity.

In Moral Ground, Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, "Eighty visionaries--theologians and religious leaders, scientists, elected officials, business leaders, naturalists, activists, and writers" including the Dalai Lama, Thomas Friedman, Thich Naht Hanh, Pope John Paul II, E.O. Wilson, Paul Hawken, and Thomas Berry, "present a diverse and compelling call to honor our individual and collective moral responsibility to our planet."

...The missing premise of the argument and much-needed center piece in the debate to date has been the need for ethical values, moral guidance, and principled reasons for doing the right thing for our planet, its animals, its plants, and its people."

We are called to understand that climate change is a moral challenge, not simply an economic or technological problem.

"This culture is an ecological serial killer." *sigh* Yes, but change is scary.

Kelly Rigg shares points from a keynote speech by Jigar Shah.

... the 2012 Climate Vulnerability Monitor whose authors estimate that around 400,000 people are dying every year due to hunger and communicable diseases aggravated by climate change and that another 4.5 million or so die from air pollution.

These are shocking figures by any standard, but were we, the public, truly shocked? The problem with the climate movement, according to Shah, is our failure to effectively communicate and mobilize around a powerful sense of moral outrage:

"People aren't getting mercury in their bloodstream because we're dumping thermometers in the river. It's coming from toxic fuels like coal. We allow companies to dump their externalities into our health care system, which we pay real money for.

... it doesn't give me hope we can defeat the 6° agenda. We are never going to win this battle with technology alone. If we can't make the case that in essence we are trading off human lives for the economy, we're going to lose, and lose badly. We have lost our outrage." [emphasis mine]

Killing Us With Coal: Why Do We Let Them Do It?

Bill McKibben's road show focuses on moral outrage at the fossil fuel industry.

Cue the math: McKibben’s roadshow takes aim at Big Oil

... the fossil fuel industry is prepared to cook humanity off the planet unless somebody stops it.

... sheer moral outrage at ... deep, intolerable injustice. The movements that change the world are moral struggles.

“There’s always been this slight unreality to the whole climate change thing,” he continued. “Because most people, at some level, kept thinking — and rightly so — Yeah, but no one will ever actually do this. No one will actually, knowingly, destroy the planet by climate change. But once you’ve seen those numbers, it’s clear, that’s exactly what they’re knowingly planning to do. So that changes the equation, you know?” [emphasis mine]


Wow -Ruth! I really like the GIF you made here. I will check out that article.

Climate and Ethics has a video by Donald Brown, Sustainability Ethics and Law Scholar at Widener University School of Law

Climate change is a civilization challenging ethical and moral problem and this understanding has enormous practical significance for policy.


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