An argument concerning the morality of climate change

Some people have decided that the science shows us that humanity can produce a maximum of 750kg per year each of carbon dioxyde, and that therefore it is morally dubious to to think that one has a right to produce more than that unless one has an argument as to why one has the right to produce more CO2 than average.

This is a deeply flawed argument. Consider the implication of reducing one’s CO2 consumption not neccesarily to the 750kg level, but simply by making sacrifices that are relatively easy to make. These mostly fall under the heading of “unneccesary consumerism”, which we tend to be critical of anyway. For example, we might choose to minimize our consumption of red meat. Let’s say, we reduce it to half – we eat half as much red meat as we did before. That doesn’t seem too difficult does it? And think of all the CO2 you’re saving. And while we’re at it, let’s try to reduce the number of flights we take, say by half again. This will be more difficult, but it is probably do-able for most of us. And concerning houses and suburbia, these are very unsustainable and CO2 heavy living arrangements, so let’s say we should be willing to spend 20% more or get 20% less house to live in a transit accessible area rather than the deep suburbs. And concerning cars,  buying a new car means a new car has to be built, so let’s say that we maintain our cars better, take better care of them, and keep them 50% longer, so instead of buying a new car every 5 years, we buy a new one every 7 and a half years. This also seems pretty reasonable.

These are all sacrifices that we could all make, and we’d still live reasonable lives. In fact, we could even afford to spend more on our cars since we’re buying less of them. We could use that extra cash to buy a more expensive diesel or hybrid and save the planet that way. (* it is unclear to me whether diesels are in fact clean, since while they do get much better mileage they do so because they have more energy in their fuel, and this is reflected in the higher Co2 per liter of fuel burnt ratio for diesel).

However, whenever we are trying to make a moral claim, we are trying to make claims not only about we think we ought to do, but what others ought to do aswell. So, if these sacrifices are moral, this means that everyone ought try to make them, or make similar ones. Let’s consider what happens if the population at large was audacious enough to follow these simple recommendations.

1) The meat industry would collapse. Half demand means prices crash, farmers go out of business. Government bailouts?

2) The airline industry is crippled. They are barely profitable now, if demand were to drop by half they would have to reduce their flights by half while keeping in place most of the same infrastructure. Prices would skyrocket, which would reduce non-essential flying, which would inevitably reduce flying to much less than 50% of current levels. Many, many people out of work. Government bailouts?

3) Housing starts crash – 20% reduction, not just temporary, but permanent. This hurts the lumber industry which will compensate by lobbying the government to further decrease environmental regulation, and further reduce the requirement for logs to be milled close to where they are cut. This increases road subsidies because logging trucks do not pay anything close to the damage they do to roads (most don’t have any springs in their suspension). Also, housing starts are seen as an indicator for the whole economy – investors will get cold feet and foreign money will begin to leave. Recession?

4) Car industry destroyed. 50% reduction in cars sold means US “Big Three” go bankrupt – they rely almost entirely on domestic pickup sales (I’m considering pickup trucks to be included in the catagory “cars” as they are in Europe). Possible mitigation if people spend 50% more on their vehicles, but this does not seem like a decision which would become common.

So, now your friend who works at the airport doesn’t have a job. You’re friends father who works at the auto plant doesn’t have a job.  Your friend who works construction is out of work. And some guy you don’t know who raises cattle in Alberta had to sell his farm and go back to school. (At least there’s a silver lining).

Still enjoying your moral superiority?

23 thoughts on “An argument concerning the morality of climate change

  1. As for Passive Houses, this is a deeply flawed idea. We live in cities, or at least we would if we were greener. In cities, all the houses are close by. Therefore, its easy to move energy around between houses. Since any form of energy production or collection is an economy of scale, it will always make sense for communities of houses to share whatever form of energy production they require. So, certainly we should have better insulation etc…, but why individuate all the energy production to individual houses? This seems to be driven by a naive desire to be “off grid”, which you arn’t anyway because you require water and sewer. To be properly off grid, you need to be a proper hermit and produce your own electricity, collect your own water, and deal with your own sewage. This is possible for some, but not a realistic option for everyone, especially those of us who are neither Beasts nor Gods.

  2. This is really meant to be an argument that duties conflict with other duties all the time, that no duties are absolute, and that we live in a sea of moral tension. Anyone who claims to have “the answer” to a moral quandary is probably a closet evangelical.

  3. So, now your friend who works at the airport doesn’t have a job. You’re friends father who works at the auto plant doesn’t have a job. Your friend who works construction is out of work. And some guy you don’t know who raises cattle in Alberta had to sell his farm and go back to school. (At least there’s a silver lining).

    Still enjoying your moral superiority?

    This is what economic transition means. Our present economy is grossly unsustainable and needs to be replaced with one that’s better. It clearly cannot happen overnight. That said, the difficulty of the transition is not an absolute defence against the charge that one’s emissions are unsustainable and thus immoral.

    If you lived in the southern US during slavery, the immediate abandonment of the practice would be hugely economically disruptive. Large numbers of companies would go bust if it vanished overnight. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that the indefinite extension of slavery would have been acceptable. I would argue that, despite the harshness of an immediate transition, it would still have been immoral for slave owners who understood the situation to continue owning slaves.

  4. It is bewildering how you sometimes write like a Trotskyite and sometimes write like Harper in his “the Kyoto protocol is a socialist plot” phase.

  5. Bringing slavery into any discussion is a good way to prevent having an argument.

    But, so long as you want to talk slavery. If immediately abandoning the ownership of slaves would have destroyed the economy to the extent that no one was able to be free, then it would have been wrong. At least under slavery some people had freedom, so if the economic disruption would have been so bad as to mean no one would have freedom anymore, slavery should have been scaled back only gradually.

    In fact, this happened. Slavery did not end at the end of the civil war, because slaves were not paid back wages for work done. Therefore, they had to borrow to buy the land they worked on and the sharecropping system was essentially feudal, not capitalist.

    So, slavery is a bad example – if we overcome climate change like we “overcame” slavery, we certainly won’t overcome it at all.

    However, my argument stands – it is not enough for individuals to simply begin to act according to the 750kg moral law – this would produce pandemonium. Rather, people should use their extra funds to lobby the state to put in place laws such that people choosing in their own self interest fall in line with the common interest.

  6. A large error is made by those who think the Civil war was about slavery, this is a lie propegated by Northern historians who wanted to discredit the South’s arguments for succession, when their arguments were in effect mostly simply the wish to adhere to the first rather than second constitution of the United States.

    This on its own wouldn’t be a large problem, unfortunately, it produces this notion that people ‘all of a sudden’ realized that slavery was wrong. Nothing is farther from the truth. Certainly there was a movement which declared slavery to be an abomination, and there was an equivalent movement who argued that slavery was more human than wage-labour because pre-capitalist systems have human relations in addition to economic relations. We believe one argument is right and the other wrong, but putting oneself in the shoes of someone closer to the beginning of capitalism, who has not been raised on the triumph of subjective freedom, it is less clear which side to pick.

    The point is, if we follow the model of “realizing slavery is wrong”, and hope people have a similar “realization” about climate change being a problem for the entire world, then while we can expect lip service and some changes perhaps now, we cannot expect them to be enforced for a hundred years (the amount of time between the Civil war and the Civil rights movement).

    We need to “wake up” much more quickly this time.

  7. Some people have decided that the science shows us that humanity can produce a maximum of 750kg per year each of carbon dioxyde, and that therefore it is morally dubious to to think that one has a right to produce more than that unless one has an argument as to why one has the right to produce more CO2 than average.

    This isn’t some arbitrary figure. As tomorrow morning’s post on my blog will explain more fully, there is a sustainable total level of emissions that is established by the nature of energy and matter. Theoretically, you could give all 5,000 megatonnes of emissions to one person. You could give white rich people who are used to driving cars ten times more than you give poor people who aren’t. No matter how you divide it, the total figure is non-arbitrary and very important.

    Demanding that everyone get to 750kg tomorrow is not sensible. Demanding that everyone get there before critical tipping points are crossed is the basic level of sanity required for the survival of humanity.

  8. I’m not talking about demanding everyone to do anything. I’m talking about what people ought to do. Now, if you think the right thing to do is to lower your own emissions, you should realize that you can do so only because others aren’t doing it.

    I’m taking for granted that 750 is the word of God. It makes no difference to my argument whether its 750 or 7500, my point is merely that doing the normal things to cut back on your own emissions, if everyone were to do them, would be very bad things.

  9. “It is bewildering how you sometimes write like a Trotskyite and sometimes write like Harper in his “the Kyoto protocol is a socialist plot” phase.”

    There is truth both in Marxist position and in the extreme libertarian position. Crucial to this argument is merely the acceptance of the 750kg limit from science, and the recognition of basic market capitalism as a system of mutual inter dependence. In other words, if I stop consuming, it means some out there somewhere doesn’t get to have a job. Obviously not with a 1 to 1 strict correlation, but with the kind of correlation such that if an entire population began to buy less cars, car producers would have to lay off employees.

  10. I was asked respond and I got a little carried away. Please bare with me, or at least consider yourself duly warned, this post is long. There is a lot of material to cover. I would like to break my reply into two distinct parts. One to deal with the nature of moral claims, and specifically with the nature of this moral claim – on whether a coherent moral argument can be made for restricting individuals to a carbon allotment based on average consumption. I will go even further and suggest a carbon allotment *generally* lower than average consumption based on some standard of appropriate use. The second section will deal with descriptive/factual/predictive disagreements about possible ways to reduce carbon dioxide.

    The second part of the project, where I shall attempt to make suggestions for reduction, is imminently connected to the first, because I shall attempt to make suggestions that don’t result in disastrous outcomes. Although it is a slight twist from your traditional doctrine, I am going to precede under the relatively banal assumption that consequences matter. There are several relations between how successful I am at selling potential reduction programs and the nature of the moral claims that we can make on this topic. Your argument entails that the consequences of reduction (by the methods you have proposed) are so disastrous that allowing them cannot possibly be moral. If I can convince you that the disastrous outcomes you have predicted are not likely to follow, or that some methods for reduction do not entail such negative consequences, then I have reduced your moral counterweight, and we can obtain some room to plausibly extend moral claims about the legitimate level of carbon dioxide emission. Similarly, by adopting this weighted approach of relative consequences, we can establish a metric by which we can establish the strength of the moral claims. If we find the cost of carbon dioxide reduction to be minor, then we have a fairly strong moral claim. A claim that might establish a carbon allotment for most of the population that is lower than the current average consumption, while explaining how and why exceptions to the carbon allotment exist.

    Section I – The Nature Of Moral Obligations

    As you note, moral obligations are not just about what we ought to do, but they extend to what we believe others ought to do as well. Most would say that this normative function of moral claims is their defining feature. In a very real sense, moral arguments, claims or obligations are about a world picture. Moral claims and beliefs paint a vision of the way the subject thinks the world should be, and assumes that others possess a similar vision. Most importantly, normative moral claims are not apologetic. They assume that the current world diverges from the ideal, or proper, and advances obligations to redress this divergence. Essentially, moral claims are about changing the world. Your argument runs, certain bad things will happen if we follow this moral claim, however, the consequences of the alternative never explored. If the consequences of doing nothing exceed the consequences of change, then the moral action is change. It isn’t clear that the status quo is the morally legitimate form. I’m not out to hurt Joe’s dad, the car maker, but the presumption that the car industry should exist, or exist to the scale it currently does, if it cannot be made sustainable, begs the question. At the end of your first post you pose the question, “Still enjoying your moral superiority?” and the answer is a resounding yes. If a legitimate moral claim can be established, it goes through and through. It entails that the world should be changed. The debate to follow is about the form. Specifically, it is about whether, in the face of these consequences, it is still moral to impose a hard limit on carbon dioxide emissions. But if it is found to be moral, then the far reaching effects of the policy must be moral as well. You paint such an absolutist picture: the job losses are absolute, reduction will tank the economy, the existence of proper economic function is an untrumpable moral consideration. A more interesting and realistic approach to examine the limits of a moral obligation not to exceed certain emission levels. Doing so should reveal the nature of the moral obligation and hopefully bring clarity to these issues.

    I would like to make some notes on your argument, before I sketch the outline of the moral claim. Consequences matter when determining the morality of particular actions or policies. In anything other an almost ridiculously pure form of deontology, dreadful consequences usually disqualify a particular action from being moral. Furthermore, moral principles can conflict. Your argument is not new. We can’t reduce emissions because doing so would destroy the economy. Your added claim is that destroying the economy is such an evil that it can’t possibly be morally good. I dispute the last claim normatively, and I dispute the consequence (that reduction will destroy the economy) factually. But consequences do weigh in, and job loss and the suffering people might experience are morally relevant features. However, we are looking for proper balance of principles, and it isn’t clear that we can’t achieve a moderately reduced lifestyle, with a basically equal carbon limit, while avoiding the negative consequences, and even if we cannot, then the principle might triumph (the harms of exceeding the carbon limit, which were conspicuously missing from your post) and destruction of the economy might be moral all the way down.

    Starting with an analysis of the argument, it is unclear what “Some people have decided that the science shows us that humanity can produce a maximum of 750kg per year each of carbon dioxyde” actually means. This could mean that science has determined the average pollution for a group of people, in which case we will be presented with a free rider argument. Or it could mean that the earth is capable to absorbing 750kg of carbon dioxide without negative effects, in which case the argument would involve some sort of natural limit of pollution that it is immoral to exceed. I’ll cover both. The first allows for the possibility of extending moral claims beyond the average, because the current use average might not be optimific. The second merely outlines an optimific use level, and will probably resemble the first because an equal distribution of the carbon limit inutitively seems like a moral distribution. However, the distribution isn’t implicit in the argument for not exceeding some sort of natural carrying capacity, and so another distribution is possible.

    Here is the general form of a moral obligation for limiting ones carbon emissions. The conventional moral principles are in play: harm, fairness, autonomy, responsibility and equality. Mill’s harm principle – that it is wrong to directly harm others (in terms of other regarding v self regarding action, not indirectly in the sense of through some medium, like the environment) – provides an explanation for the establishment of a limit on carbon dioxide emissions. The harm is that the weather patterns become more severe. Life becomes less pleasant and more dangerous for humans. Carried to the absurd conclusion, pushing too far past the point of sustainability entails that everything on earth dies. I’ll leave the standing of the environment, or animals, or life in the abstract, as moral agents or intrinsic goods to the reader, because positive ascription would only strengthen the moral claim. All that is really required is our obligation to other humans. Exceeding a certain sustainable capacity harms others. Harming others is wrong. It is that straight forward.

    Now, if we are talking about a natural capacity for self-renewal that the earth possesses, the argument turns to matters of just distribution. If we are talking about average use, then the moral standard is going to depend on the distribution. The moral obligation maybe generated by contractual agreement or some form of explicit proclamation. Regardless, the stories track, since the arguments for just distribution can often be extended to moral claims about how to determine the appropriate level of use at unsustainable levels.

    Desirable or not, equality generally starts most conversations of distribution. Equality strikes a cord with most people’s sense of fairness. Autonomy might enter the picture here. We are all individual beings, with similar form and capacities, each with our individual goals, and hopefully we are all members of the moral community (Ignore the phrasing, I have read to much Habermas recently, the sentiment is: we all have moral standing) and in these respects we are to be afforded equal protection and dignity. So when distributing a resource, we should be sensitive to other people’s aspirations (pragmatically – so they will be sensitive to ours, and empathically – so we don’t make them suffer) and we should be sensitive to their moral claims as agents in the moral community. For this reason equality makes sense, because everyone is going to lay claim to the resource to pursue their own projects. Objectively we realize everyone is advancing the same claim, and treat them equally. This is a common conception of fairness.

    But why should we have individual distribution at all? Why shouldn’t the state impose a distribution? We return to autonomy. People want to pursue their own projects and define the good life in the way they want to pursue them.

    If average use is not sustainable, then simple agreement doesn’t automatically render the limit morally defensible. The principle of fairness re-enforces the notion of equality. If we contractually agree to certain rules, say an equal distribution, then we now have a moral obligation to abide by the distribution for the same reasons we have a moral obligation to keep a promise. The general idea, where the use limit is not sustainable, is that the society has collectively decided to trade harms in a specific area for gains in another. Collectively everyone waves the harm others do to them, in exchange to do harm to others, in the form of carbon emitted, in order for everyone to live according to some collectively desired standard. As a whole, society is willing to trade the evils of pollution for some form of living made possible by polluting. And this would be just, appealing to Rawls’ fair play argument. People would be obligated not to exceed their limit because society agreed to it in some hypothetical and deeply troubling fashion. It is moral because no one meets a sustainable standard and everyone agrees upon the standard.

    However, the strength in Rawls comes at the international level. The problem is that everyone hasn’t agreed to a standard and not everyone enters negotiations with equal power. (This only pertains to average use as level, not a natural carrying capacity) We need an analysis of the harms relative to the gains, not entirely dissimilar to the approach you suggest, but more carefully considered. We value economic growth and thus, we might choose to set the carbon emission standard relatively high, and if we did this collectively as a society it would end at the consensus analysis. We could set X per person where X is a percent of standard Y, required for good life A. Or we could set X per person with exceptions for industry Z, where Z is required for good life B. If we collectively decided that good life A is worth suffering a hurricane yearly, then we don’t have a problem. Unfortunately, the benefits and the deleterious effects of our carbon policy does not only effect our society. The benefits accrue in the developed world, the ills in the developing. Most of the decisions are made by the most powerful of the developed countries. It is neither fair, nor just, nor equal in benefits, or ills, and it isn’t collectively negotiated. Here, fairness, equality and harm re-enter the conversation. It stands that people in other countries might have a legitimate moral claim, on the basis of harm, that limits our carbon emissions. I find it particularly interesting that all of your economic concerns are narrated from a first person, developed world point of view. ‘Our’ industries might collapse. ‘I’ might feel bad because ‘I’ hurt Jim’s dad. Things might get messy for ‘us’, should we cut back. Strangely, self-interest is rarely the guiding principle in ethical systems.

    This analysis reveals the moral nature environmental claims can impose upon us. We can now understand the relation of the policy to the consequences. Negative consequences can reduce or deny the moral standing of an act or policy. The problem with your analysis is that you don’t consider the consequences of inaction, and you aren’t the legitimate judge of whether the consequences of inaction are worth the benefits. There is no consensus position, and any appeal to hypothetical consensus is doomed to fail because the benefits and the costs are not evenly distributed. It is possible that the entire world could get together and set a toxically high carbon limit. It would be stupid, but it isn’t clear that it is immoral, setting aside the animals and any notion of intrinsic good. So in this sense, the problem of conflicting moral principles is resolved. Society as a whole can weigh whether saving X lives is worth expending Y amount of gas. This benefit, or perceived benefit also explains why possible exceptions might exist. As fair as an equal distribution appears, unequal distributions sometimes net greater utility. Should everyone be made better off, and the worst off exhibit the largest gain, than an unequal distribution might be defensible. (Rawls difference principle)

    I’ve forgotten a very small part of the story. Why does anyone have the right to tell you what to do? Responsibility is usually tied to autonomy. You are free to spend your amount anyway possible. Some people may claim special needs, and certain special needs might warrant exceptions. Noam, travelling the country and lecturing, might produce a high net utility, so he could server as an example of the Rawlsian model. Someone with a chronic medical condition might require extensive treatment. They should be exempt under the guise of fairness. They started from a position of inequality. Autonomy, the procedure is necessary to their continued existence and due respect requires that we care about their existence. Utility, society as a whole has made it a priority for pragmatic reasons. But responsibility and its special link to autonomy prevent everyone from being exempt. The choice either has to bring consensus, or it has to be beyond the control of the individual. If you decide to go to school halfway across the world, you take fewer trips home. It was your choice, so your responsibility entails that you face the consequences. If you need to fly around the world or die, through no fault of your own, that counts as a good reason. Similarly, convincing everyone else in the world that you action is collectively beneficial counts as a good reason.

    Section II – Predictive Disagreements

    I strongly disagree with your analysis of each of the suggested ways for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. First of all, I would simply like to note, aside from the tacit, unproven assumption that every one of these industries in their current form is good, and deserves to exist even if it can never be made sustainable, you have an extremely strange perspective on the market economy. I don’t think I have ever seen an argument advanced by a neutral party (meaning one who didn’t stand to profit – one who was not selling an inefficient product) that planned obsolescence was good.

    I guess it keeps things interesting. (Perhaps not. The goods produced might have become so trivial – take this time to download the new Britney Spear’s sex tape – that “interesting” might be strong a word. Perhaps all we can say is the tautological, it keeps things changing.) It keeps the world temporary. The people on the Friends of Hannah Arendt facebook group are currently lamenting the demise of the political. It keeps people buying. I guess this is more along the lines of your argument. If people didn’t shamelessly consume then the American economy would collapse. Perhaps, but the wastefulness of capitalist economies is generally regarded as a bad thing. The claim that capitalist economies don’t fulfill desires, but are really about the production of new and more extravagant desires is relatively common. But, I have no interest of slipping tangentially into a full on post about free market economies and class warfare; I think a reasonable common ground can be reached by admitting a distinction between goods that enhance the quality of life (washer, dryer, over, car, air plane) and impulse buys, trends and other forms of mindless consumption. (fashion – probably the most contentious, paying more for the same product, those clacking sticks, pog…)

    I’m not sure the later category is desirable at all. Fashion is probably the most contentious, because I am sure some will argue that it dramatically increases the quality of their lives, but again, the process remains the same, it is only the magnitude of the reward that is in dispute. We look at the costs, and we look at the rewards, and we decide where the balance of harm lies. If our obligation to not to harm animals is strong enough to outweigh pleasure some feel at wearing fur, then it is morally impermissible to wear fur. The method for determining whether something is moral isn’t different between the categories. The categories merely represent a suggestion that there are some consumer activities (fashion for me) that contain very little gain, thus sustaining the critique, while acknowledging there are real improvements in our standard of living that may justify some carbon emission. Planned obsolescence seems to be the extreme form of the second category. There is no payoff. Nothing is gained. Quite the opposite, build a light bulb that lasts five times longer seems like a benefit for the consumer, the environment, scientific inquiry, and society writ large. Building one set to fail seems to benefit only the company. The real benefit in living conditions (rightly or wrongly attributed) is what the capitalist economy takes credit for. In idealized form, it innovates, and builds a better, cheaper, more durable washer and dryer. The extension of your argument is ridiculous; your argument entails that we should reduce efficiency and lifespan of current products so we could increase consumption. Even staunch free market supporters are not going to advocate a return to inferior technology. This applies doubly (for any reasonable person) who realizes that there are ethical concerns that weigh on the form of the economy. Simply put, the assumption that these industries are desirable in their current form, when combined with this bizarre, undefended endorsement of planned obsolescence is grotesque.

    Your argument isn’t novel. You tow the line. We can’t cut greenhouse gases because it would have an adverse impact on our economy. That is a pragmatic policy consideration. You have somehow elevated economic activity to the rank of moral, and I have attacked it with the assertion that economic activity can be moral or immoral depending on the activity and the consequences of it, i.e., how much does this improve our lives? How much harm does it cause? How are the harms benefits distributed? But in this descriptive question, we need to ask, is your fundamental claim true. Will carbon reduction methods destroy the economy?

    There is excellent reason to believe that the result of inaction will be worse. Insurance costs from 2006 were massive. The Stern report chronicles the percentage of GDP required to combat climate change. For less than five percent we can make excellent progress. Compare that to a project thirty to fifty percent contraction of the market in fifty years. The Stern report is novel, because he is a former finance mister making an economic argument for combating global warming. Suddenly Bush can’t actually say “it’s the economy stupid”. Even if you want to buck the entire report, your model is unrealistic. You make the job loses appear permanent, and you make the market contractions in all sectors happen immediately and all at once. No one is talking about going from one-eighty to ten overnight. The cuts will be phased, targeted, offset by development funds, new technology.

    In the case of reduced meat consumption, when demand falls, price falls. However, no industry can survive long term by providing a product at a price below the cost of production. Meat prices may decrease, but they will not go, (or stay) below the cost of production, i.e., feed, energy, calves, etc. Companies will go bankrupt. My guess is that if meat consumption drops by fifty percent, companies representing roughly half of the productive capacity will go bankrupt. The government should not bail them out. What would be the purpose of preserving twice as much meat production capacity as we require? The market would contract, but it wouldn’t disappear. It would simply contract to the level of consumption. There will be job loses, and unemployment does hurt people, families, society, and it is regrettable, but it isn’t clear this outweighs the moral obligation. The telephone killed the telegraph industry. The fact that an archaic industry once existed and thrived has never beat the pragmatic reasons for killing it off, to say nothing of the moral. Your analysis is absolutist. You treat the loss of the job as a permanent negative. You admit no possibility of new jobs. In reality, new industries come into existence to replace the jobs lost from old industries.

    In general, your analysis seems to ignore the fact that the development of sustainable technologies might actually mitigate the job loss. You were talking about very general, very easy, and I am sad to say, very minor reductions we could achieve. This is a huge technical problem. We have a long way to go between current average use and sustainability, and the enormity of the project is going to create jobs. Some Wall Street analysts are already predicting it will be the next booming sector. However, you have also pointed out that all of our reduction methods are likely to come at a loss (regardless of how small) in our standard of living. Making truly clean tech could keep engineers occupied for decades to come.

    In terms of the airlines, only some are barely profitable. Some have been immensely profitable, but lets not digress. It is exactly the same as a potential contraction in the meat industry. Few people flying equates to fewer flights, which equates to less fuel used, and fewer employees. The supply should contract to meet the demand, and the most efficient cost-wise or quality-wise will survive, while the inferior organizations fail. The only difference is you seem to allude to fixed costs. I am assuming airports, airplanes on order, etc. Airplanes on order would be stored, and there might be a minor reorganizing, purchase cost, requirement that is passed on to consumers. But that is very short-lived and relatively minor. As for airports, the major hubs are operating beyond capacity. Should they ever fall below capacity, shut down facilities. If the facilities can’t be shut down, but aren’t used, the major cost – the cost of producing the facilities in economic and environmental terms has already been paid. The only scenario I can really imagine is some giant one room/one structure airport operating at twenty percent capacity and requires one hundred percent heating. That isn’t optimal, but if the environmental cost of heating, and upkeep, etc, over a number of years, exceeds the cost of building a smaller, more efficient facility, then building the new facility doesn’t violate or moral principles.. You’re suggesting a counter balance; the cost of change can be high, thus impacting the effect on the environment. This is true, but it only requires that we act intelligently in deciding which reduction avenues to pursue. Generally, restructuring costs don’t exceed the gains. Remember we have an almost infinite amount of time to realize the gains.

    Housing, once again, if we buy smaller houses the market will contract. The lumber industry as well. It will cause a certain amount of economic pain. This is the reason why carbon emission reductions are being phased in. You are correct that a sudden economic collapse would be extremely detrimental to our quality of life. Once again, my suggested approach is determining the benefit we gain from using dirty technologies. Very few industries are currently sustainable. Petroleum is amazing; however, it might be better directed towards building new, cleaner infrastructure, and the manufacture of plastic products, then as a fuel. We should also be looking for ways to realize those benefits with less oil, and should we be unable to reduce consumption for some benefits, then we should seriously think about relinquishing those benefits. For whatever reason, I don’t actually see the love of large homes fading fast, so I think we should focus on realizing those benefits more efficiently.

    This brings me to your myth of the passive house. Off the grid refers to the electrical grid, not the social grid, and often it isn’t actually employed (by environmentalists) to indicate complete separation from the grid. It’s used to indicate less reliance on the grind. In fact the vogue concept of being off the grind includes producing an abundance of energy that can be fed back into the grind. Centralized power might be a clean and efficient method of generating power. (I’m a fan of nuclear. This is sure to upset many environmentally friendly people who might have agreed with much of this post up to this point, but nuclear is another debate, and shall remain a (dubious) example of clean (in terms of carbon dioxide emissions), central power generation). Off the grid refers to finding efficiencies in the home, and there are many. Better building techniques to draft proof the house, multi-layered storm windows, using lots of insulation, will all reduce the energy demand, and thus the level of carbon dioxides emitted. The angle of the house and the layout of the windows combined with walls made of out a substance with high thermal retention can heat in the winter and cool in the summer. Geothermal systems (in the form of a tube 20 – 36m below ground) also help to stabilize the temperature and could be installed when suburbs are constructed. Dual skinned office buildings, turbines or solar panels (I’m being a little optimistic with the panels) and better public transit (which really translates to – a willingness of people to be inconvenienced) can improve energy in urban areas. I’m not able to decisively say whether any amount of plausible initiatives can save the burbs. The city draws efficiency through proximity, but once again we fall back to the same discredited argument, that if it changes the way we live it can’t be good, desirable or moral.

    Lastly, I don’t have much to say about the car industry. The irony is the big three are losing billions anyways because they refuse to meet costumer demand as more customers believe they have an ethical obligation to reduce the harm to the environment. I am not sure if I understand your claim, but it seems that your love for obsolescence, entails that the market should be allowed to continue to provide products no one wants, because a company was once a very large company. Who cares if GM goes bankrupt because people want smaller cars, because we impose legitimate moral obligations to driver more fuel-efficient cars, or because Toyota starts giving away porn with each purchase? Your argument doesn’t seem targeted to the environment, it seems to be targeted to change. (you’ll say unemployment – I’ll beg to differ)

    I’ve never bought a car. My parents think their cars/trucks should run for at least ten years. So your optimistic seven and a half year purchase plan seems a little strange to me. I think it just comes down to relative gain, or improvement in lifestyle. I don’t think that I need a car. Currently, to me, it isn’t even worth the financial resources. I can see how one would be useful, and if I was given one for free, I might take it. The moral claims the environment makes (before we have established a sustainable capacity) are going to be of this kind. Can we maintain a standard of living comparable to our current standard while significantly reducing the consumption? I think most people feel the answer is yes. It might be unpleasant to wait for a bus, but compared to the consequences of not reducing emissions, waiting for the bus is a minor inconvenience, and therefore we believe one has a moral obligation to limit personal carbon emission to some acceptable level. For the general population, some hard level is probably going to be determined based on its ability to produce an adequate standard of living and a distribution, most likely an equal distribution will be imposed. Then citizens will demand compliance (moral obligation) of others because it becomes a free rider problem. There is a necessity to limit because of the harm not limiting causes to others, and once a distribution is selected, then it is moral to limit ones use to that particular level. There can be exceptions, but this fair use – benefit model explains those exceptions. You state, “it is morally dubious to to think that one has a right to produce more than that unless one has an argument as to why one has the right to produce more CO2 than average.” So, people with conflicting moral obligations may plausibly explain why they should exceed the carbon emission limit. An immensely talent cardiologist might morally be able to fly around the world many times in one year. A scientist developing a new technology might require an experiment that produces an abundance of carbon dioxide. Both can offer compelling reasons.

    The basic picture is, there is some point of sustainability that exceeding causes harm to others. (The harm principle) Currently our moral responsibility is mitigated because we have collectively accepted a certain amount of harm, of a particular kind, for certain gains of another kind. (Fairness) We must impose a just distribution of the alloted resource. Equality is a candidate. (Fairness/Justice/Equality) Shared utility maybe the exception. If we put them together we get something with a Rawlsian flavour. People then have an obligation not to exceed their allotment because the distribution is just (fairness – free rider problem) and the limit is required (harm), and a continued drive towards sustainability is required. (harm – especially if you some strange convictions as the environment as an entity or an intrinsic good, but generally, I think the harm above sustainability will drive consensus (fairness) towards a sustainable limit)

  11. “In a very real sense, moral arguments, claims or obligations are about a world picture. ”

    Except that we are the first age in which we have something like a “world picture”. Other ages simply had worlds. But it seems quite certain other ages had morals.

    “paint a vision of the way the subject thinks the world should be, and assumes that others possess a similar vision. ”

    I disagree. Moral claims paint a vision of how the subject should be. There are many non-moral facts about the world we would like to change. The question of morality is “how ought one live?”

    “It isn’t clear that the status quo is the morally legitimate form. ”

    No, but the status quo is the condition of the possibility of making moral claims, to some extent. I’m making a very simple Kantian argument – just as Kant says tellers shouldn’t steal bank notes when they get the chance because if they did we wouldn’t have banks, I say we shouldn’t reduce consumption when we can because if we did we wouldn’t have a society.

    “If a legitimate moral claim can be established, it goes through and through. It entails that the world should be changed”

    This is the dangerous language of someone certain they are right, despite seeing the horrific consequences. Convinced that their cause was noble, Nazi’s felt that the horrific nature of the death camps was just the highest price they had to bear for the sake of truth and goodness.

    “You paint such an absolutist picture: the job losses are absolute, reduction will tank the economy, the existence of proper economic function is an untrumpable moral consideration.”

    I disagree, rather the opposition paints an absolutist picture by maintaining the universality of the moral obligation. The universality of that obligation is what causes the absolute job losses.

    “We can’t reduce emissions because doing so would destroy the economy.”

    This is not my argument at all. My argument is we can’t make to reduce emissions a moral claim. Rather its an ethical problem which needs to be solved by government. Government needs to change the rules such that self interested choices will reduce emissions. They can therefore manage the changeover in the economy and keep climate change out of the moral sphere.

    “The moral obligation maybe generated by contractual agreement or some form of explicit proclamation.”

    Moral obligations can be invented in lots of funny ways, but the important thing is that they not result in a contradiction. If following the moral obligation universally makes following the moral obligation logically impossible, then it is not moral at all.

    To be honest, I’m not that interested in the concerns of distributive justice on this issue. I merely wanted to point out that such concerns exist, and that numerical equality is a naive way of distributing the 750kg limit. My argument does not rely on following this limit however, but just on reducing emissions in relatively painless ways.


    No, I do not think any of these industries are “good” in and of themselves. I’ve named industries I find particularly horrific on purpose. The goodness of the industries is not required for my argument. I am not interested in the extent to which some industry increases people’s quality of life – I am interested what effect the immediate disintegration of industries would have on the economy as a whole.

    “We can’t cut greenhouse gases because it would have an adverse impact on our economy.”

    NO – this is not my argument at all. I absolutely agree we should cut greenhouse gases and reduce the strength of the economy. I’m 100% for that. But I’m not for making “reduce your emissions” a moral principle. For one, people won’t do it anyway. And second, if they were to do it, it wouldn’t just hurt the economy, it would destroy it by sending it into a crazy recession. I’m talking about the difference between a moral imperative and an ethical imperative. Yes, the government should set the norms and taboos, and laws, such that the economy loses at the price of the environment. But that is not the same as creating a moral principle.

    “your analysis seems to ignore the fact that the development of sustainable technologies might actually mitigate the job loss. ”

    This is the kind of thing that happens in a smooth transition. I’m all for this. However, if the transition does not come from above but spontaneously from everyone becoming “moral”, there won’t be any capital to develop new technologies.

    For example, do you remember the day after september 11th 2001? All the News Anchors had been shopping and were showing that they had “done their part” to keep America going. I’m certain that everything they had bought (from high end stores) was needless frivolity, and cutting back your emmisions would mean not purchasing things like that. Consider the effects if everyone suddently stopped buying diamonds, fancy clothes, silly cars, etc… I’m not talking about one unsustainable industry – I’m talking about all of them. All of them at once. The depression would be so deep you could see China.

    Concerning Airlines – they already go bankrupt regularly. So the result would either be many less airlines or huge government bailouts. But again, this is only one example, the point of my argument is that being “moral” won’t hurt 3 industries, it would cause hundreds of them to disappear over night.

    “You are correct that a sudden economic collapse would be extremely detrimental to our quality of life.”

    I don’t particulary care about quality of life. However, sudden economic collapse would make it impossible for us to switch over to clean sources of energy.

    As for the 10 year car thing, my parents feel the same way. They keep their cars for at least 15 years. However, this isn’t a moral thing to do – because if everyone kept their cars for 15 years cars would not be nearly as good or as cheap because there would be many less of them sold.

    Maybe a better example would be Banana’s. Say the average consumption of Bananas is 3 per week, and with that supply the cost per banana comes out at 50cents. If people on average consumed 5 per week, economies of scale would allow the price to fall to 40 cents. If the consumption was one per month, Banana’s would cost 50$ each. I am perfectly free to eat only a Banana every month, or every two months, but we can hardly make a moral imperative out of this, because it would mean hardly anyone could afford Banana’s. In fact, I would not be able to afford Banana’s, as I have better things to do with 50$. So, while it is fine for one person to consume only one banana per week, it is ludicrous to make a moral principle out of it.

  12. Saying “we can’t reduce emissions because if we do it instantly, it will wreck the economy completely” is a bit similar to saying “we may be plummeting towards the ground, but we cannot open our parachutes because if we were to stop instantly, the acceleration would kill us.” At best, we are talking about deploying the pilot chute which will start the process of unfurling the technical, infrastructure, and behavioural changes that will eventually produce a real low-carbon economy.

  13. I’m at a complete loss as to how to respond to your criticism. You seem to have selectively quoted, while ignored the point they were actually making, and responded with something off topic.

    Lets start with an area of potential agreement. In post thirteen you suggest that the government should impose a legal framework for the reduction greenhouse gases, and that a top-down governmental approach is superior to a bottom-up grassroots approach, which I am assuming you feel is likely to develop if we push carbon dioxide reduction as a moral obligation. I’ll tentatively agree to this. To be a little clearer, I fully agree that the government should be leading our efforts to combat carbon dioxide emissions. I’m lazy, and relatively powerless, while the government gets paid to work for me and carries a big stick. Additionally, I don’t believe that reduction alone is up to the task, so we need initiatives in the industrial sector if we have any hope of meeting Kyoto, and the greater goal of sustainability. I also agree that if everyone reduced to sustainable levels, the economy would suffer immensely, and that it is not a good idea, nor is it practical for everyone to reduce from current consumption to sustainability overnight. I disagree because I think a moral obligation to minimize the impact on the environment and thus reduce harms to others is useful. While government participation is required in any carbon policy of substance, this fact isn’t a licence to inaction. There are realizable gains to be had through reduction. Consumers should get informed and act responsibly. This approach helps pragmatically, endorses autonomy, and is, in a very real sense, what being a moral agent is all about. But so far, this hasn’t reached the overnight disaster scenario that you have outlined, and so you may want to try to claim victory in this regards, because we might actually agree with the form of the reduction, but there is one major problem – this isn’t what your original post is about.

    Part I – What Your First Post Actually Says

    (1) This argument wasn’t made in your original post. Your claim in post thirteen is, “Rather its an ethical problem which needs to be solved by government. Government needs to change the rules such that self interested choices will reduce emissions. They can therefore manage the changeover in the economy and keep climate change out of the moral sphere.” The term “government” was only used twice in the first two posts in the form of “government bailouts?” The use, as a rhetorical question supposedly meant to demonstrate the folly of the moral claim due to disastrous economic consequences, has nothing to do with a call for government to address an ethical issue. I’m sorry, I don’t know how else to say this, but it just wasn’t your argument. If that is what you meant, that isn’t what your wrote. I respond to what you write, and what you wrote sounds like an apologetic denial because there is no mention of this as legitimate problem, or any reference to action towards a solution.

    (2) This isn’t what we were talking about. Because this argument isn’t the one you initially made, it isn’t actually what I was asked. My response to the initial post explores the plausibly of a legitimate moral claim to a personal carbon emission cap. The initial post denies that a plausible moral claim can exist. I traced a rough outline of that claim using generally recognizable and accepted moral principles. You don’t have to become a Rawlsian, other distributions are available, but the point is, that beyond consensus, other members of the global community have a plausible moral claim on us on the basis of harm. I’m very sorry if you don’t really care about distribution or responsibility on a global scale, but that is a powerful driving force behind these moral claims. I set aside most of the questionable stuff, like the moral status of animals and the intrinsic value of nature, and carved up the issue in very clear, very simply moral principles. If you don’t like Rawls jettison the utility. If you hate equality, ditch it. It’s hard to escape harm (but I am going to have to dedicate a full section to this later), but I constructed a rather rich framework. Nearly any of those principles can be extended to advance a moral claim for some form of sustainable consumerism, or consensus agreement. As a final note on this subject, this isn’t what we are talking about, because you are now offering an argument about the form of the reduction. I understand that you think you are asking a moral question, ‘what is the moral form of the reduction?’, but your rather bizarre treatment of recession doesn’t make it clear that this is a moral question, because you keep saying things like ‘I don’t care about the effects it has on people’. This will be expanded on later, but the point is, you’ve switched from the nature/plausibility of a moral claim, to an argument about the form of a reduction. An argument that is not present in the first post regardless of how hard you look.

    Part II – I Feel Ignored

    You have ignored the substance of my post. (1) I sketched a moral obligation with generally accepted moral principles. You have completely ignored it. You have nothing to say about the claims others can make on us, and you haven’t bothered to address the fact that inaction is a real harm. (You slide into a different argument that suggests that recession is a harm, and that would counter inaction as a harm, but you explicitly contradict that position.)

    (2) You’ve completely missed my point on your absolutist language. My point was that the evils of the change, or upheaval are not likely to be permanent. Milan and I point this out repeatedly. You treat the harm, and I am willing to admit a legitimate harm, as permanent. In doing so you inflate the perceived amount of harm. If Joe’s dad moves from GM into GreenTech after a week of unemployment, the harm is relatively minor. If eighty percent of our population remains unemployed for forty years the harm is major. You tend to crystallize the job losses. My point was that green technologies offer employment opportunities to mitigate these losses. Your response was, “The universality of that obligation is what causes the absolute job losses.” I’m not concerned that you blame our moral principle for the harm; I’m concerned that you immediately slip back into the absolutist language. ‘Causes the absolute job losses’ You’ve completely missed my point.

    (3) Your argument in the first post and in the thirtenth post may contradict each other. Or at the very best, your position is extremely unclear. The thirtenth post admits reduction. I am minorly pleased because it is a far more reasonable position. Regardless of intent, your first post sounds like an apologetic defense of the status quo. It isn’t clear that the current state of affairs is unjustified and should be changed. The contradition is that you admit some harms in the contraction in the policy in thirtenth post. You don’t seem to admit any market contraction in the first. I am willing to believe that it is consistent, because the first post is only warning about extreme contraction leading to collapse, but that doesn’t seem consistent with your banana example, where a mild reduction is problematic. When you keep saying things like, ‘I don’t care about the harm to people’, it’s hard to figure out what makes the market collapse immoral. If it is the harm to people, it isn’t clear why some contraction, while better than a collapse, still isn’t a morally relevant consideration. If your point is that conflicting moral principles lead us to an unresolvable contradiction, which I feel is ludicrius (see point four), then how can you now endorse a plan to contract markets. At the very least you seem to be constructing a strawman to some degree, whereby people who endorse the moral principle and believe action should be taken, have to commit to destroying the economy. Then later, you change your position to, action should be taken, but I’ll do it in such a way that doesn’t destroy the economy. That’s great, but that is what everyone is talking about. That is the plan for the form of the reduction. The moral claim is the justification for taking action.

    (4) You’re missing a realistic picture of opposing moral principles. You state, “Moral obligations can be invented in lots of funny ways, but the important thing is that they not result in a contradiction. If following the moral obligation universally makes following the moral obligation logically impossible, then it is not moral at all.” I’ll accept the Kantian proposition that ‘ought implies can’. It is not possible to have two legitimate moral principles that are absolute and conflict. But the moral obligation in this case is not absolute. You seem to confuse absolute with universal. Furthermore, you claim that this is a moral principle that is universal is dubious, because it has a build in exception. The universality of the principle that everyone must not exceed a certain amount of carbon emissions without a valid reason doesn’t entail that everyone has to follow the carbon limit. It has a built in exemption clause. You seem treat the limit as a universal absolute. The exemption clause gives rise to several senarios where moral principles maybe brought into conflict, but this isn’t the same as contraction. Conflicting moral principles can lead to a heirarchical resolution, where one principle dominates the other, or a blended resolution, where the policy reflects elements of both moral principles. Political policies and legal decisions balance conflicting moral principles all the time, ex, justice and equality. Sometime the claim to morality rests on the claim that they have adequately balanced the relevant moral principles. Your type of impossible conflict only occurs when you have two absolute, contradicting moral principles. Perhaps practical examples will help.

    The universality of the limit doesn’t entail that everyone only admits 750kg of carbon dioxide. Milan made this point, you can carve the distribution anyway you like, but 750kg is scientifically relevant (this clears up the ambiguity in the original post) because it represent some form of natural planetary capacity. A different distribution means that we might justly decide that Noam can exceed this amount by giving up some of our own. We can exempt certain industries etc. I’ve shown why this is moral.

    We can even ignore the 750kg, even if this results in death, if the decision is reached globally, and ignoring the animals and the intrinsics. Rawls advances an argument for why this is fair. Those who believe in intrinsics will argue that we can’t ignore the limit, and they’ll have an explaination why.

    We can also offer moral principles that conflict with the carbon limit. Suppose we couldn’t feed everyone on the planent for less than the limit, or suppose there was a natural emergency and the response requires a massive emission of carbon. We have a moral obligation to help people and we have a conflicting obligation to restrict our carbon emissions. There is nothing bizzare about this contest. We might even decide that the moral action is saving lives, even if it involves pollution. In this case a conflicting moral principle mitigates the moral obligation one has to limit carbon emissions. This can even be universal. It could be the case that it is morally correct for everyone in that situation to save lives at the cost of polluting. The confliciting principles just can’t be absolute. They can’t combine in a way that requires you to save lives while emitting less carbon than required to save lives, in exactly the same way that a moral principle can’t require you to save lives of people don’t actually exist, or something to that effect. I assume by universal you meant absolute, but just because a principle isn’t absolute, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t impose a legitimate moral obligation.

    Furthermore, we can select an action opposed to a moral principle on the basis of other concerns. We could base an action on pragmatic considerations. Your argument involves a rather mysterious moral obligation not to through the global economy into recession. It isn’t clear that this is a moral principle. This debate is very mainstream. People argue there is a moral obligation to limit carbon emissions, and others deny the obligation because the current quality of life is desirable and change would require effort. The fact that pragmatic goals might be compromised certainly does not limit the moral obligation.

    Part III – State Your Reasons

    You have to give a clear account of why economic collapse is bad. The minimum necessary condition is that it has to be a moral account. You keep saying that there are confliciting moral principles, so the principle has to be moral rather than pragmatic. You have to show an absolute moral duty not exceed carbon emissions and our absolute duty to consume to keep the economy running. Somehow, choosing an action that leads to a massive recession is a violation of a moral principle that you have posited, that hasn’t been clearly articulated. I’m not sure it is a moral principle. There is a good chance that avoiding a recession or a complete economic collapse is a pragmatic consideration and not a moral one. I can imagine one thinking ‘Come on, give me a break. It’s just so obvious why we want to avoid a recession.” I agree. But I don’t agree that it is an obvious moral principle and I need more information about the strenght, nature, form, root of this moral principle.

    One argument for a moral principle limiting the damage to the economy would be that such damage produces harm. This would lead us into an argument about what form of reduction is moral. However, this doesn’t suggest a confliciting absolute principle. There could be a moral obligation to emit carbon over a certain limit, and another obligation specifying the form of reducing one’s consumption if one were over the limit. You may have a moral obligation to stop shop lifting, but this doesn’t allow you to shoot a six year old kid for stuffing a chocolate bar in his pocket. It baffles me, because this really isn’t difficult philosophical labour. My multifaceted analysis explains why we might not be able to demand instant reductions, because they aren’t possible, or because we collectively agree to a standard of living, or because certain expenditures are morally defensible at this point. Or the moral obligation could exist, and people pragmatically don’t chastize others because they do such a poor job of meeting their own obligations. There are many explainations and none of them involve contradictory, absolute moral principles.

    You confuse me considerably when you say things that suggest that you don’t care about the effect economic collapse has on people. I said the rough form of your argument was, “We can’t cut greenhouse gases because it would have an adverse impact on our economy.” You responded, “NO – this is not my argument at all…. And second, if they were to do it, it wouldn’t just hurt the economy, it would destroy it by sending it into a crazy recession.” First, lets realize your answer cut my outline of your argument in half. The relevant twist to your argument is that you have somehow moralized economic damage. This is accurate, because it is what is supposedly serving as your contradictory moral principle. But my problem is that your reason for moralizing a recession isn’t clear. If the outcome of the moral principle ‘don’t steal’ is that Bob’s dad, the car theif, goes to jail, so what? That’s the moral outcome. We can quibble over form. Is the punishment suitable? But for the outcome to plausbily restrict the moral standing of the policy, it has to be established as an immoral outcome. I shall also note that, ““I am not interested in the extent to which some industry increases people’s quality of life – I am interested what effect the immediate disintegration of industries would have on the economy as a whole.” is a clear indication of your wholism. It wasn’t apparent in the first post, but you can still be critical of single industries. It is fair to say that a rapid economic collapse is impermissible, while changes in a particular industry is permissible. Your objection seems to be one of speed and magnitude, rather than of kind. Change is fine, but not this fast. Fine, but you still have to establish all out economic collapse as a morally negative principle, and when you say things like you aren’t concerned with the effects that a recession has on individuals, it isn’t clear why avoiding recession is a moral directive. There is no foundational moral principle that states avoid recession.

    To quote, “I say we shouldn’t reduce consumption when we can because if we did we wouldn’t have a society.” clearly indicates that you think there is some value in having a society. Why is not having a society bad? It has to come back to a question of the benefit society offers. I think there is a plausible reason for limiting the rate at which we draw down carbon emssions. Pragmatically definitely, and you might even convinence me of a moral requirement. But the rational behind it will run, draw down too quickly harms others and the harms of a rapid draw down greatly exceed the harms of pollution involved in a slower draw down. To summarize, there are three devestating points to be made. (1) It isn’t clear that avoid recession is a moral principle. (2) If it is, and might be, you fail to offer a clear explaination of why it is a moral principle. It seems like it will have to involve harm (to people), and you have explicitly stated that you don’t care about that. You seem to suggest that a moral directive to avoid recessions is a self-evident moral principle. (3) Moral considerations imposing limits on the form of reducing carbon emissions doesn’t mean there isn’t a moral obligation to restrict ones carbon emission. The fact that genocide isn’t a moral carbon reduction plan doesn’t mean that individuals can’t impose legitimate moral claims on us to limit our carbon emissions.

    Part IV – A Complete Inability To Respond

    There are other various issues. I have little idea how to respond to many of them because they seem very far removed from the subject at hand. Some of the points, or replies to my quotes seem misdirect and very odd.

    My reference to a world picture wasn’t a Heideggerian reference, nor was it the establishment of some sort of independent reality or truth standard. It was merely pointing out that there is a difference between the possible and the actual, morality is aware of and speaks to this difference, and moral claims entail that the world should be changed. Previous generations did understand this distinction. Refer to the account of techne and making in Aristotle, where the image is grasped in the mind prior to action. Your right, morality did exist before the twentith century, your just draw the wrong conclusion – that it isn’t about a vision of a possible world. Your also right, it is about how one ough to live. But this a matter of simply rephrasing. When I say, ‘you should not kill small animals for your sexual pleasure’, I’m envisioning a world, where you as a subject make certain choices and act a particular way. This explains the non-prospective aspect of moral condemnation and retributiuon, when I say after the fact, ‘you should not have killed small animals for your sexual pleasure’, I’m envision a world where you didn’t kill several small animals. When I seek retribution, I’m envisioning a partially actualized world that is less than ideal, and I’m positing a possible remedy to try to bring it as close to the ideal as possible. If you want to take exception to my description of morality, that’s fine. The simple point is that morality is normative and makes claims about the way the world ought to be, and that stating a list of results without evidence for those results being strongly immoral, doesn’t establish that an action or policy is not moral.

    The some people abuse moral claims argument is baffling. I don’t think that I made very strong claims. I explained a form of moral obligation that could stem from a consensual, yet ultimately toxic limit, as well as an argument for a natural limit based on harm. There is lot of room for the type, and strength of the moral claim that can actually be imposed. In one sense, you do have me dead to rights, since I have committed to a claim and outline a procedure for evaluating such a claim. Your point is that bad people do bad things with moral claims. Yes, but those aren’t legitimate moral claims. I’m not sure that I can defend the epistemological status of my moral claim beyond noting a broad consensus that harming others is wrong, but this is a scepticism problem. You go find the noumena. I think there is a moral claim. I’ve identified the moral principles in play. The principles line up with our intuitions to some degree, yet the action or policy they entail is not apologetic. My suggestion is normative. It is critical. It is comprehensible and probably shared by many peoples’ moral framework. You’re not offering anything close. Your Nazi argument seems to suggest that we should abandon morality, because some people have abused moral claims. That’s ridiculous. If it’s a warning against hubris, that I should not try to dogmatically assert my position, then I don’t think I am guilty. I (strongly) think that I am right, but I am willing to argue it out. My reasons are not above questioning. I view this comment as a paradigmatic example of a criticism that is just offbeat. It doesn’t make much sense, it doesn’t really cut to the core of the issue we are debating, because it is hopelessly broad and unspecified, and it probably leads to a ridiculous conclusion (which I am sure you can escape by bring in supplementary claims, because it is vague).

    “But I’m not for making “reduce your emissions” a moral principle. For one, people won’t do it anyway.” Is general acceptance or compliance required for a valid moral principle? I was conducting an analysis of the nature of the moral claim. I don’t understand why people failing to act morally jeaporidizes my analysis. This sounds like a legal consideration. If everyone breaks the law and it is never enforced, is it really a law? Moral claims are immune to this because they are normative. They hold irregardless of how people actually act.

    “Concerning Airlines – they already go bankrupt regularly.” Cast your net wider. Singapore Airlines (SPOAF) has been consistently profitable and has recently earned strong praise from several market analysts. Another has been consistently strong, but I can’t remember which it is. I can’t commit to this, but my suspecision is that it is the privately held Dubai airline, and possibly a British airline has been doing extremely well. I don’t remember the names, I just have an vague recollection of examining a few airlines that have been doing well, so feel free to take this evidence for what it is worth. My point is that there is a world beyond North America. This is mainly for your interest, but the small tangential relation to our moral debate is that your analysis of moral claims is admittedly local. It’s nice that you are focusing on what we should do, but it is incorrect to assume that moral obligation is limited by national boarders.

    You’ve completely lost me with the banana example. Are you saying there is a moral obligation to help other people realize savings by consuming to the point where we develop an economy of scale? This is bizarre. No one actually believes this. No one seriously claims that we must all buy ten kiwis per week, to lower the price of kiwi by five cents per kiwi, for the kiwi lovers. (Lets see how many more times I can say kiwi, kiwi) When claims about goods, or the cost of goods are advanced, they are defended on the basis of necessity. We have to provide affordable housing, and medial care. I’ve already covered this. We have an obligation to care (to some degree) to other human beings (moral agents, autonomous individuals). But that doesn’t mean that every welfare enhancing demand being legitimate. The strength (I feel) of my ethical analysis is that it is multifaceted. I put a lot of principles in there, harm, autonomy, responsibility. You seem to be suggesting that if many people stopped eating McDonalds tomorrow, for health reason, (anything but environmental reasons) that they would be doing something wrong. The cost of McDonalds food might rise, and I am guessing, your claim is that this hurts other consumers. But this form of harm is voluntary (note Mill’s distinction) and my analysis can explain why this obligation to reach an economy of scale is just crazy. It violates autonomy in an unbelievably violent way. You aren’t tracking the morality of environmental issues, you are positing a bizarre moral obligation to consume, and it’s just wrong.

  14. Economic collapse makes it impossible to reduce emissions voluntarily. All emissions reductions require either sacrificing things you would have done, or spending more on those things. In a state of economic collapse, it is either impossible to do non-essential things, or if it is possible, impossible to do them in a more expensive way i.e. with lower emissions.

    You are confounding my point. It is very simple.
    A)Suppose there was a moral obligation to the 750KG limit.
    B)If there is a moral obligation to the 750KG limit, it must be morally good to voluntarily reduce consumption to approach it.
    C)Voluntary reductions in consumption, if done by everyone (universalizability) produces economic collapse.

  15. “Are you saying there is a moral obligation to help other people realize savings by consuming to the point where we develop an economy of scale? This is bizarre. No one actually believes this.”

    You’re right. My point is, this is not a sphere over which there can be a moral imperative. Trying to impose a moral imperative produces contradictions.

  16. Peter,

    “Are you saying there is a moral obligation to help other people realize savings by consuming to the point where we develop an economy of scale? This is bizarre. No one actually believes this.”

    You’re right. My point is, this is not a sphere over which there can be a moral imperative. Trying to impose a moral imperative produces contradictions.

  17. Peter,

    I don’t find your story about the origin of moral obligations very interesting because I’m not making a claim about what the origin of moral claims are. I’m making a remark that they must pass the test of universalizability – the world would have not to end if everyone who is under their purview actually followed them.

    I’m making a claim very similar to, should I refrain from paying taxes? Well, no, because if everyone refrained from paying taxes you wouldn’t be in the position of asking whether you ought pay your taxes.

    In this case, it goes like this: should I reduce my consumption? It seems like a good thing, but if everyone did, I wouldn’t have a job. I need a job in order to discuss whether or not I should reduce my consumption – if I’m reduced to barest poverty I can’t make this kind of high minded moral judgement. Therefore its not a moral claim.

    Now, of course you can still choose to reduce your consumption. The real world is not moral because in the real world universalization never happens. You can say “I value” the reduction of my own emissions, and “I value” the setting of a good example for others. However, the condition of the possibility of my actions having positive consequences is precisely their inevitable failure – if everyone actually did as I do the economy would collapse.

    This means that reducing your emissions can be a good thing, in the same way that Strawberry ice cream is a good thing. But it is not a moral imperative – it is hypothetic on your particular end, which is to produce a small impact on the mindset of the current population.

  18. I’m very sorry if you don’t find the analysis of the moral claim interesting, but you asked me to comment, and that is what your first post was about. The discussion started with,

    “Some people have decided that the science shows us that humanity can produce a maximum of 750kg per year each of carbon dioxyde, and that therefore it is morally dubious to to think that one has a right to produce more than that unless one has an argument as to why one has the right to produce more CO2 than average. This is a deeply flawed argument.”

    The post begins by questioning the claim of a moral obligation to limit your carbon dioxide emissions to less than 750kg per year. I will give you an account of the sentences meaning by providing definitions for all of the words in those two sentences if you feel it is necessary. The current form of argument did not emerge until much later, and really hasn’t emerged in clear form until now. If that is what you meant, it isn’t what actually what you wrote.
    I understand the Kantian point you are trying to make, but it’s wrong. The economy and reducing emissions is not like cheating on a test while relying on standardized testing as a metric of performance. There is no contradiction through universalization there. The economy isn’t integral to reducing emissions. It’s integral to maintaining our current way of life, so we might want to carefully consider the form of the reduction, but this isn’t a moral maxim that undermines itself if universalized. You don’t need a job to reduce your consumption, because you don’t actually need to talk about your consumption in order to reduce it. If the economy collapsed (and this not desirable, but that isn’t actually your point) it is not impossible to realize lowered emissions, because fewer goods entail fewer emissions. Cutting emissions runs the opposite of trying to build a better, cheaper product, when the infrastructure doesn’t exist. Failure to produce secures lower emissions. Case and point, emissions were far lower in pre-industrial societies, where the economies were mere shadows of the current standard. We don’t need the economy to figure out how to cut emission. We need the economy to figure out how to cut emissions while keeping our current standard of living. The moral argument for reduction is that we might have to give up our current standard of living.

    The Kantian picture is misapplied here. There isn’t a logical contradiction in the maxim that prevents it from being universalized. This is why you need, and I have consistently asked you to provide substance behind ‘it will cause a recession.’ I’ve gone even further, because I have supplied an argument for you. It isn’t your Kantian contradiction ‘we need the economy to reduce’ argument, but I supplied a plausible argument that explains the commonsense desire many people will have to avoid a recession. Pragmatically, our current standard of living is quite comfortable, and possibly morally, there is real harm caused in a recession. Thus, if there are many options to meet our moral obligation to cap our emissions, some of which cause less harm than others, then it is moral to realize the cap gradually, or to phase in reductions. I’ve traced the moral principles and you seem entirely unconcerned with the type of moral claims other people might be able to make on us, particularly globally. It’s just mind blowing that you have no interest in the claim ‘because it might hurt some people’, but choose to focus on a misapplication of Kantian principles to deny a moral obligation. If you want to be a pure Kantian, that’s fine, but the principle of reduction doesn’t follow into contradiction by damaging the economic system.

  19. f you want to be a pure Kantian, that’s fine, but the principle of reduction doesn’t fall into contradiction by damaging the economic system.

    Proof reading for the win – Pure Irish

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