Philosophers On Climate Change

Philosophers On Climate Change


The 21st Conference of the Parties (“COP 21”), a major international climate negotiation involving representatives of nearly every country in the world, and organized through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is currently taking place in Paris.

One of the central goals of this year’s conference is “to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.” Failure to rein in global warming, it is feared, will wreak drastic and harmful environmental damage, threatening human health and welfare, and possibly leading to social, economic, and political instability. Yet controlling climate change is an extraordinarily difficult coordination problem.

More generally, climate change and the global efforts to address it raise a number of philosophical issues, including: moral responsibilities to the environment, non-human species, future generations, and the global poor; global governance and international cooperation; the role of individuals and institutions; scientific and moral uncertainty; the ethics of expertise and communication; and more.

These issues and others warrant attention and discussion alongside the current news coverage COP 21. To that end, I invited several philosophers to share some brief remarks about them. As with previous installments in the “Philosophers On” series, these remarks are not comprehensive statements, but rather focused thoughts on specific issues, meant to prompt further discussion, here and elsewhere.

Contributing are:

Thanks to each of them for taking the time to participate in this post.

The idea of the “Philosophers On” series is to explore the ways in which philosophers can add, with their characteristically insightful and careful modes of thinking, to the public conversations about current events, as well as prompt further discussion among philosophers about these events. All are welcome to join the discussion.

Please share the post with others, and feel free to provide links in the comments to relevant philosophical commentary elsewhere.


John Broome — Climate Change Calls for Innovative Philosophical Work

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, dated 2014, contains the sentences ‘Issues of equity, justice, and fairness arise with respect to mitigation and adaptation’ and ‘Many areas of climate policy-making involve value judgements and ethical considerations’. These are obvious remarks. But they occur in the Summary for Policymakers of Working Group 3, which means that each individual sentence has been officially approved by delegates from the 194 countries that make up the IPCC. Each government has officially recognized the need to pay attention to moral considerations in its policymaking.

It is up to moral philosophers to help governments make the moral judgements they recognize they need to make. Responding to climate change is a hugely complex challenge, and it requires guidance from philosophy if it is to be done well. What is the right way to cope with the great uncertainty of our scientific predictions? To what extent do the citizens of rich countries owe recompense for the harm that is being done by their past emissions, and the emissions of their ancestors? Climate change creates a small chance that humanity will become extinct, or that the human population will crash to much smaller numbers; how far should these catastrophic possibilities influence our decisions? Should the interests of nature be set against the interests of human beings? These and many other questions raised by climate change fall within the broad domain of philosophical theories of value and theories of justice.

Some can be approached through familiar philosophical methods. For example, decision theory is a well-established account of how to cope with uncertainty. Others require philosophers to break new and contested ground. What reason have we to value the continuation of the human species, for example? Climate change calls for innovative philosophical work.


Ben Hale A Hot, Glorious Mess 

As most people are aware, the COP21 climate negotiations are now happening in Paris. It’s a big deal. The COP (or Conference of  Parties meetings) occur annually and were initially an outgrowth of 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which eventually spawned the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. In principle they are a gathering of most of the major nations of the world (192 approximately) through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but there have been substantial stumbling blocks every year since Rio.

One of the major stumbling blocks was been a provision known as CBDR, or “common but differentiated responsibilities.” The idea, which came out of Rio but was eventually incorporated into the Kyoto Protocol as “Principle 7,” was that all nations have a shared responsibility to address climate change; but that not all nations are in a strong position to do so, and others may need a little wiggle room to develop. This idea was fundamentally motivated by ethical and justice considerations. It seems, I think to most philosophers, to be the right, or at least a very reasonable, approach to allocating burdens for mitigating climate damage.

Unfortunately, the United States was one of the few nations never to ratify the Kyoto protocol, largely because of CBDR. To put it coldly, there was a lot of handwringing about how CBDR would cripple the US economy in competition with fast-developing nations like India and China. This also explains, in part, why many of our politicians have been reluctant to accept responsibility for having caused climate change (though Obama just changed that earlier this week).

Five years ago COP16 was held in Copenhagen, and was viewed, at the time, as the only hope for a post-Kyoto regime. For many people, the Copenhagen Accord was a massive letdown. It basically only commits nations to “take note of” emissions reductions in a last ditch attempt to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 degrees Fahrenheit), but there are plenty of secondary commitments that expand the scope of the UNFCCC and improve efforts to mitigate and adapt. The past several COPs—in Cancun, Durban, Doha, Warsaw, Lima—were all a build-up to Paris, which is happening now. It’s a big deal, like I said.

What we need is a new mechanism for all nations to work independently, but collaboratively, to reduce their carbon footprint. Obviously, there are many issues intercalated in the reduction of emissions, not least of which is that reducing emissions often requires reducing energy consumption, which can impact how rapidly poorer nations pull themselves out of poverty. It is easy enough for those in the wealthy west to trim the fat on our energy consumption. It is much harder for the poor and developing nations to do this. The international community needs to find a way to curb emissions while also permitting development. It needs to do so in a way—and this is important—that is acceptable to all major emitters. Anything else not only raises potentially insurmountable political complications, but also raises substantial justice objections as well.

The United States, thanks in part to the activities of many people in the Obama Administration (including philosophers, believe it or not) is poised to make historic progress on this issue. My friend and colleague, Andrew Light, has been instrumental in working with Secretary Kerry and the State department to make change happen. If we can get a deal in Paris, it will be nothing short of incredible for humanity and nature, but it will also be monumental and important for the profession of philosophy. It shows that philosophy can be done to make good in the world and not just to armchair the hell out of it. Other philosophers can follow Andrew’s lead by putting their minds to work on these vital issues. The world needs our help, and we are not as useless as we sometimes pretend to be. Moreover, following this lead need not be an undesirable “Plan B.”So long as we can juggle the standards of a professional philosophical inquiry and with the practical realities of the political sphere, we can contribute.

It is often said that perfection is the enemy of the good, and this could not be truer than in the case of climate change. Since Kyoto, CBDR has been a deal killer. It is right, of course, to berate the leaders of the United States—one of the wealthiest nations in the history of the planet and, by extension, one of the great beneficiaries of our carbon economy—for not stepping up to the plate and fulfilling their obligations to the rest of the world. But there are many instances of this kind of selfishness throughout the international political scene, most of which aren’t limited to climate change. We as a world community are in desperate need of some kind of climate agreement, and we cannot expect that our leaders will form the perfect one. We should do what we can to get something.

But it is also worth bearing in mind that the Good can just as easily be the enemy of the Right. As frustrating as it can be, the UNFCCC process is critical to ensuring that this agreement is as just as possible. As it plays out in Paris, the UNFCCC will appear to all the world to be a circus: with pulling, tugging, and shoving from an enormous range of political actors – Annex I, Annex II, Non-Annex I nations, the African Group, the League of Arab States, Small Island States, NGOs (BINGOs, ENGOs, RINGOs, YUNGOs, TUNGOs), regional politicians and members from civil society. But it is also an opportunities for all parties, including non-state parties, to be sure that their views and interests are represented. It’s gonna be one hot glorious mess. Whatever the outcome, however imperfect the outcome, Paris is but one small step in an incredibly tedious process that demands collective attention to detail, and significant patience with the rough, rocky edges of politics.


Marcus Hedahl — How The Wrongs of Climate Change Are Compounded

As the Paris talks are underway, climate change has already done much more than merely threaten rights to life, liberty, security, and subsistence. Warmer temperatures have caused an increase in both the frequency and strength of hurricanes and typhoons (Mei et al. 2015). Earlier spring temperatures have disrupted critical ecosystem services on which human society depends (i.e., clean air and water, crop pollination, etc.) (Staudinger et al. 2012). Water resources have become scarce and more highly variable (Haddeland et al. 2014), with associated negative consequences for crop yields (Lobell et al. 2011) as well as food security overall (Shindell et al. 2012). In short, climate change wrongs others, sometimes severely. Since the potential to wrong others is strongly linked with owing a duty to another, we might think that we owe it to those most vulnerable to prevent those wrongs. Yet owing something to another generally involves specific relational content as well. Often integral in our conceptions of owing a duty to another is a specific duty bearer or bearers, specific duty content, and a specific individual or individuals to whom a duty is owed. Typically, these two elements of owing something to another are found together. When Tom makes a promise to Mary, for example, Tom has a directed duty to Mary to do as he promised and if he fails to keep this particular promise, he does not merely do wrong; he wrongs Mary. The world is often aligned, however, such that owing a duty to another in the former sense does not entail owing a duty to another in the latter. In the case of climate change, any claims those harmed may have are not connected to the duties of even the most profligate emitters in the way Mary’s claims are to Tom’s duties. Given the voluntary nature of the Paris commitments, even with a “great unexpected breakthrough,” those wronged by climate change will still not be able to demand as their due duties with specific content that are by themselves sufficient to prevent the wrongs done to them; they can merely howl at the moon.

One solution to this incongruity is to contend that there is a necessary connection between the potential for wronging and the existence of a specific and specifically addressed duty, but that connection is normative rather than descriptive. Just as duties ‘call out’ to be fulfilled (i.e., duties normatively require fulfillment) even when they are violated, being the potential subject of moral wrongs ought to engender directed obligations on the part of others, but it need not currently do so in order to be properly analyzed as something owed to them.  Owing something to another requires fulfillment – surely. More interestingly, however, is the fact that we can further wrong others if there is no way for them to engage in meaningful second personal exchanges about what is rightfully their due.  This latter wrong is easy to overlook or to deem as less significant. After all, the failure to fulfill the content of a duty or a right might seem much more important than the failure to allow one to complain or seek redress when those duties are violated. Yet time and again, the inability to engage, to complain, and to seek redress is often taken to be as dehumanizing, if not more so, than the original injustice. We recognize that we do not live in Kant’s kingdom of ends, that sometimes even the most significant rights will be violated. Yet we further dehumanize those wronged when they have no way to seek redress for those violations.

In the wake of Cyclone Pam, facing food shortages amid near-total destruction, the people of Vanuatu not only called out for aid provisions, they also appealed for the establishment of an institution to whom damage claims related to climate change could be addressed. The fact that there is presently no such institution deepens rather than diminishes the sense in which rights are not being honored and climate victims are being wronged. As we move past Paris, we must create not only meaningful and legally binding targets, but these kinds of institutions as well. In other words, we must do more than stop harming and wronging those least responsible for the current crisis; we must recognize this unique way in which people can be wronged in this – our morally imperfect – world.


Avram Hiller — Measure Climate Change’s Intrinsic Impact on Non-Human Nature

Climate change is an enormously difficult problem, in large part because those who are most affected by it—members of future generations, and those in developing countries—have, and have had, little or no say in setting climate policy. The UN Climate Change Conferences, which include representatives from over 150 countries, are vital fora for creating and implementing policy designed to limit the harms due to climate change.

Missing from the discussion, however, are other classes of entities lacking direct political representation—non-human animals, non-sentient living organisms, species, and ecosystems. Analyses of climate change, such as IPCC reports and the Stern Review, do, of course, account for the impacts of climate change on the non-human world, but only for anthropocentric reasons. The section of the UN Framework Convention website titled Nature’s Role and the articles on it focus nearly exclusively on nature’s benefits to humans. Even the most seminal works by philosophers on climate change have had very little to say about how the intrinsic value of the non-human world will be affected. This is surprising, since studies show that people do value animals and nature intrinsically, and images such as a photograph of a struggling polar bear on a small piece of sea ice have gotten many people interested in combating climate change.

Efforts to date at assessing the intrinsic impacts climate change will have on nature have been woefully inadequate. Undertaking this project is daunting, but is of the highest importance. Given the sheer numbers of sentient non-human individuals, their consideration could change our assessment of climate change’s impacts by orders of magnitude. Furthermore, consideration of the non-human world may tip the scales further in the direction of mitigation rather than adaptation; even if adaptation measures can be helpful for humans, it is tremendously difficult—some say conceptually impossible—to help non-human nature adapt.

Of course, whether the non-human world has intrinsic value or is morally considerable is contentious. Even granting that non-human value exists, it is contestable what parts of nature have it and how disagreements about it could be adjudicated. What I propose is for philosophers, economists, and Earth scientists to work together to provide expected value models that employ varying parameters marking the intrinsic value of climate change’s impacts on the non-human world. For instance, some models will give more weight to the preservation of ecosystems and others to the welfare of individual animals. The parameters should be transparent so that we can make more informed policy decisions.

One might reasonably wonder why we should even attempt to take the non-human world into account. Coming to a consensus has been fraught enough without controversial claims about the intrinsic value of nature. As it is, we are struggling to find ways to limit climate change even though we are already aware of its expected harms to humans. How can consideration of the non-human world make a positive difference? Three reasons: First, many of the current integrated assessment models made by economists excluding intrinsic consideration of nature indicate that we should not take significant steps to mitigate climate change, and these models are in fact influential on policy-makers’ decisions, and could be countered by models that do include the intrinsic value of nature. Second, appealing to non-human value can actually help nations reach consensus since it is a value that is not self-serving for any particular nation. Third, counting those things that are voiceless but are likely to be harmed is simply the right thing to do.


Marion Hourdequin — Climate Change and Individual Action

My hometown made national headlines twice in the last month, though I wish it hadn’t.  The reasons are all too tragic: in each case, a gunman set out to kill strangers unknown to him, and succeeded.  Sadly, such events are no longer anomalous: they have become part of the daily drip of discouraging news from home and abroad.

In the midst of ongoing wars, massive migrations of refugees, vituperative rhetoric from U.S. presidential candidates, and scores of other sobering realities, we find ourselves facing yet another problem, global in scope and multigenerational in timescale, which affects not only human beings but the many diverse forms of life with whom we share the planet.  The problem is climate change, which some have called the world’s largest collective action problem and others—notably philosopher Stephen Gardiner—have labeled “the perfect moral storm.”  The structure of the climate problem can seem intractable: as Gardiner argues, we lack effective institutions for international governance; our psyches and our political systems seem ill-equipped to manage intergenerational problems; and even our moral theories falter in attempting to clarify the nature of moral responsibility for a challenge this large and this diffuse with respect to the linkages between causes and effects.  Some conclude that the lines of connection are so diffuse that any individual’s choice either to conserve energy or to profligately waste it makes no difference, causally or morally, to climate outcomes and associated harms.

This view is tremendously discouraging, and I don’t think it’s right. Individual actions can make a difference, and there are good reasons to think we have obligations not to emit profligately.  I am not so naïve to think that cycling rather than driving to work will save the world, but for those concerned about climate change, consistency and integrity oblige us to reduce our emissions where we reasonably can.  To ask the federal government to commit to deep cuts while we make no effort at more local scales would be hypocritical.  But the more fundamental reason I think that personal action matters is grounded in the conviction that our individual relations to one another and to the natural world matter, and that these relations are bound up with institutions and practices in complex ways.  It is true that social, political, and economic structures shape us as individuals and channel our behavior.  It is also true that our individual actions construct relationships and express values that these structures come to reflect.  For this reason, I favor what Elinor Ostrom called a “polycentric,” multi-level approach to social change.  No single policy, law, book, speech, or action can adequately address global warming. Changes are triggered at multiple scales, and efforts at one level interact with those at others, sometimes synergistically. Our current economies and infrastructure are fossil-fuel intensive, making it almost impossible for people to avoid dependence on coal, oil, and gas.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t be intentional and conscientious in our choices—and that intentionality in turn has the potential to shape the economies and infrastructure of the future.

As it turns out, the Pope agrees—and while those who do not share his faith might be inclined to shrug and move on, his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’ provides a lucid and stirring call to attend more closely to our relations to one another and to the natural world.  The encyclical is both bracing and hopeful, and while many of its recommendations are not new, it focuses powerfully on the need to reorient our lives—particularly for many of us in the developed world who are caught in a cycle of endless consumption—toward care and compassion.  As such, Laudato Si’ acknowledges the deep interconnections between poverty and environmental degradation, and insists that we must address both together.  That means that developed nations need to honor “differentiated responsibilities”—they must bear the greatest initial burdens—in addressing global climate change.  Yet because everything is interconnected, climate change cannot be solved by international agreements alone: what we do as individuals genuinely matters.  This includes, of course, not just personal emissions cuts, but social and political action.  It includes not just what we do to respond directly to climate change, but what we do to show compassion for other human beings and for all living things residing on earth, our common home.  The encyclical calls for individual action, as well as for deep cultural change: a reassessment of what we genuinely need and what in human life has value.

One need not be religious to appreciate the insights in Laudato Si’, which is addressed to all of humankind.  It is hopeful, and invites us to counter violence and exploitation through “simple daily gestures,” and to “care for creation through little daily actions.”  Whether or not they change the world—and they likely won’t right away—these little daily actions can matter to our lives as individuals, and to the lives of those around us.  And that fundamental concern, for living good lives and seeking to support one another in doing so, could go a long way to addressing global climate change, as well as to dissolving the anger and strife that so often surround us.


Dale JamiesonThe Mutual Challenges of Philosophy and Climate Change

Public thinking about climate change can benefit from philosophical reflection, and philosophy as a field of inquiry can benefit from reflecting on a real problem of unsurpassed urgency and importance. Here are three (highly telegraphic) examples.

Climate science can benefit from the epistemological sophistication of philosophers, and philosophy can benefit from reflecting on an area of science that is quite different from those areas most studied by philosophers. Climate science is model-driven and experiments are performed on super-computers. Even what counts as data in this area is highly inferential and modeled. When a model fails to simulate a historical or plausible climate we don’t consider it falsified—instead we tweak the model or even perhaps the data. When that doesn’t work we tweak some more. The major climate models are important and truth-revealing, yet they are also too big to fail. This is not how science was supposed to work when I was in graduate school.

Some philosophers, especially in Europe, have become interested in climate ethics. There is a little question that by changing climate human action is causing harms to humans and other organisms, but there is little agreement about whether and how the traditional concepts of moral philosophy (e.g., duty, responsibility, blame, and so on) can be applied in this domain. Climate change may involve the world’s biggest collective action problem, but it is far from clear that philosophers’ notions such as  cumulative or threshold responsibility have much application when assessing the behavior of someone who emits carbon driving their kids home from soccer practice. This is an area where it is not easy to figure out what to make of the tidy concepts and idealizations of philosophers when they collide with the real world.

While philosophical reflection on climate change is generally neglected, one area that is especially rich and especially neglected is political philosophy. It is not clear how the building blocks of traditional liberal theory (e.g., the public/private distinction, the focus on individual agency) can be (re)ssembled in a way that is enlightening in a world in which the problems that we increasingly face are caused by  the apparently private, even trivial acts of people which together cause horrific consequences radically extended in both time and space, that are intended by no one.

These are some of the ways in which climate change challenges philosophy. I also believe that philosophy has already made a significant contribution to public thinking about climate change but there remains much more to do.


Catriona McKinnon — The Paris Agreement: Too Little, Too Late?

The success of any global agreement on climate change should be measured in terms of whether it achieves the following things. First, transition to a zero carbon global economy as soon as possible. Given the amount of greenhouse gases we have already pumped into the atmosphere, we are on track to blow humanity’s carbon budget (for 2C warming) by 2050, given moderately optimistic assumptions about the mechanisms of climate change. Second, a successful climate agreement must at a minimum include measures that will enable the world’s poor to meet their energy needs and adapt to the impacts of climate change; some think it should also include commitment to compensation for ‘loss and damage’ beyond the reach of adaptation. The poorest people on the planet have the lowest proportion of emissions but will be worst hit by climate change. Most of them live in countries that did not see a rapid, fossil fuel generated development boom in the 19th century, such as that from which present Europeans and North Americans benefit. Third, a successful agreement must ensure that we deliver to future people the world we owe them. The worst impacts of climate change will be felt by people yet to be; the fact that they are yet to be is no reason for discounting the damage we risk inflicting on them as a result of climate change.

The imperative of decarbonisation frames the requirements of fairness to the world’s poor and future people: a successful agreement must meet all three. It is already clear that the Paris Agreement will not measure up on rapid decarbonisation. Most countries are coming to Paris with emissions reductions pledges (INDCs) and the best we can hope for is agreement on these pledges, with an ongoing commitment to review them. Assuming that countries keep their (unenforceable) promises, that they are (and have been) transparent about their emissions, and that there are no nasty ‘climate surprises’ just around the corner, the pledges could enable us to limit warming to 3C, on some optimistic assumptions. The cheerleaders for Paris argue that the pledges are only a first step in a long term ‘pledge and review’ process that could ratchet up emissions reductions to achieve decarbonisation by the end of the century. This is not impossible; but 2100 is too late. Many climate scientists set the date for decarbonisation to avoid dangerous climate change at 2050. Achieving that would need a revolution in global energy production and consumption starting today.

For this revolution to be fair to the world’s poor a massive global redistribution of resources from North to South would be required to enable the sharing and fast scaling-up of zero-carbon energy technologies. Fairness here will also require adaptation packages adequate to the needs of those who will be badly affected by the climate change already in the pipeline; for example, the people of Kiribati, whose homeland will disappear under the sea whatever we do now. If we were to achieve an Agreement that secured swift decarbonisation and that was fair to the world’s poorest people, we would be some way towards discharging our obligations to future people. We would have significantly limited the warming they will experience, and we would have minimised the dangers of abrupt and catastrophic climate change that, in the absence of a fair and effective Agreement, we are creating. But we still would not have done enough. To deliver what we owe to future people we need to address the elephants in the climate room: population growth, and animal agriculture. Without making striking changes in these areas we cannot leave future people the world we owe them.

None of this resonates at Le Bourget. The buzzwords in the Leaders’ speeches on Day One were ‘historic’, ‘watershed’, ‘landmark’; and the relentless narrative coming out from the UN is of a small beginning that will lead to an effective solution. We have heard this before. We do not have time for small beginnings, and the promise of gold guaranteed at the end of the rainbow is dangerous. It gives us the false comfort that the humanity is on track to ‘fix’ climate change, and enables us – conveniently – to continue as we were. The scale of the changes we need to really ‘fix’ climate change will impact on every person’s life. The real danger of Paris is the climate complacency it will encourage at the moment of humanity’s last chance to wake up.


Darrel Moellendorf — The Aim of Mitigation and the Right Sustainable Development

Responsibility under a climate change mitigation regime should recognize the right of states to sustainable development. In order to mitigate climate change, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) must stabilize. Due to the long life of a molecule of CO2 in the atmosphere, such stabilization effectively requires eventually halting anthropogenic CO2 emissions, regardless of the temperature limit target adopted. Hence, a global transition to a zero-carbon economy has to be the goal of any serious mitigation regime.

The good news is that the levelized costs of some forms of renewable energy, especially photovoltaic, are falling rapidly. But unless the costs of renewable energy in the least developed and developing countries falls sufficiently (either by means of market forces or as a result of subsidies) so as to approximate the costs of coal in these areas, investing in renewable energy will come at the opportunity cost of slowing progress in poverty eradication and human development improvement.

The evidence suggests that human development is tremendously energy intensive. For example, over the course of time in which South Korea’s level of human development rose from about the level of Central American countries to the level of Northern European countries, it’s per capita CO2 emissions quadrupled. Such growth in energy consumption is typical of human development advances. The International Energy Agency has developed the Energy Development Index (EDI), which measures a country’s use of modern energy. When countries’ ranks on the EDI are plotted against their rank on the Human Development Index there is a strong correlation. As energy use and access expands, a country’s human development improves. Intuitively this is not a surprising result. Energy consumption is, after all, the means by which agriculture is modernized, exports for international trade are manufactured, and roads, hospitals, and schools are built.

Although an international mitigation regime should aim for a rapid transition to a zero-carbon global economy, it is reasonable to expect it do so in a way that is consistent with not slowing the morally obligatory project of eradicating global poverty. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) document affirms the importance of the right to sustainable development. There are two reasons to think that the distribution of the costs of climate change mitigation among states should conform to the requirements of sustainable development. First, any cooperative project—like mitigating climate change—should allow for its parties to be able to do what they are otherwise morally obliged to do. Poverty eradication is a moral obligation of the international community and a required aim of national development strategies. Recognizing the right to sustainable development protects states seeking to develop economic strategies that aim to eradicate poverty. Second, in agreeing to the UNFCCC document, which expressly recognizes the right to sustainable development, member states of the UNFCCC have assumed a promissory obligation to respect it. The architecture of the assignment of responsibility in an international mitigation regime, then, should ensure that developing and least developed states are able to exercise their rights to sustainable development.

Given the need for increased energy consumption to pursue human development, the right to sustainable development establishes a justified claim for increased energy consumption in developing and least developed countries. If that is correct, two options seem available. If increasing energy consumption in the developing world were to involve the increased consumption (over the short term) of fossil fuels, which remain the least expensive form of energy in most markets, then developed countries would need to reduce their emissions enough to offset the emissions increase since the mitigation aim requires an overall reduction in CO2 emissions. Alternatively, if the increased consumption is to be of renewable energy, then developed countries would be required to subsidize the purchase of that energy as long as fossil fuels remain cheaper, since assuming the burden of mitigation should not slow the process of poverty eradication. In either case, pursuing the aim of mitigation within the constraint of recognizing the right to sustainable development requires industrialized countries to assume certain costs.


Discussion welcome.

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Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins
5 years ago

Kudos to Catriona McKinnon for bringing up population growth and animal agriculture, two “taboo” topics that both highly industrialized and less industrialized countries need to address and significantly cut back if we are to deal effectively with climate change.

I would also take issue with Darrel Moellendorf’s assumption that human development must be tremendously energy intensive. Developing countries do not need to follow in the footsteps of the industrialized world with its high-consumption paradigm, and philosophers should be working to change this paradigm across the board–it does NOT bring about human well-being–rather than continuing to justify it.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Ronnie Hawkins
5 years ago

@Ronnie Hawkins:

“Kudos to Catriona McKinnon for bringing up population growth and animal agriculture, two “taboo” topics that both highly industrialized and less industrialized countries need to address and significantly cut back if we are to deal effectively with climate change.”

I’ve seen this comment made with increasing frequency, but I’m very unclear about how the science is supposed to work. A fixed-size population of living organisms, subsisting directly or indirectly on foodstuffs that are regrown once eaten, is carbon-neutral qua biological system. So there shouldn’t be any net carbon dioxide generated by our current population of agricultural animals themselves. Similarly, even a much larger human population wouldn’t itself generate more carbon dioxide. In both cases our current means of supporting/utilising those populations do generate lots of carbon dioxide, but that’s via transport and energy generation. So if (and of course it’s a big if) we can work out how to decarbonise our transport and energy-generation systems, what is the supposed additional climate-change effect of an expanded population or of animal agriculture?
(That’s a request for informed comment, not a supposedly-conclusive refutation.)

“Developing countries do not need to follow in the footsteps of the industrialized world with its high-consumption paradigm, and philosophers should be working to change this paradigm across the board–it does NOT bring about human well-being–rather than continuing to justify it.”

Presumably they should only be working to change the paradigm if they agree that “it does NOT bring about human well-being”. I for one don’t agree, but in any case it needs to be argued for. (Which isn’t to say that you’re obliged to provide that argument in a quick blog comment, of course.)Report

Marcus
Marcus
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

>>So there shouldn’t be any net carbon dioxide generated by our current population of agricultural animals themselves.
You seem to be only considering the generation of CO2, but:
First, GHG-emissions involves more than carbon. We “translate” methane and nitrous-oxide into their carbon-dioxide equivalency, but those less talked about GHG are atom for atom much much more problematic. And a larger agricultural population does impact methane levels, rather dramatically.
Second, there are indirect impacts of a larger agricultural population and a larger human as well: More acreage needed for a meat based diet typically means fewer carbon sinks as does a larger human population overall, and carbon sinks will very likely become more important rather than less as the climate issue becomes more problematic.
Third and finally, its not like the clean energy revolution will come overnight. Those born in the next 20 years in the first world will have a lifetime climate footprint 2-4 times greater than the average young citizen alive today, even if the clean energy revolution arrives ahead of schedule.

In short, temperature targets lead to simple division. Carbon-equivelence we can “safely” (i.e. only middy catastrophically) emit / # of people = “acceptable” average carbon footprint. The numerator is, sadly, probably past the point at which we can simply say that talking about denominator is not necessary.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Marcus
5 years ago

I was using “carbon dioxide” as a shorthand; the same point ought to apply for methane. (Nitrogen has to come from somewhere.) The total amount of methane in the atmosphere can depend on the size of the animal population, but the rate of emission, in the longer term, can’t. (Contrast burning of fossil fuels, where there’s an enormous stock of carbon being depleted rather than a steady-state cycle.) Part of what I find weird, scientifically, in these discussions is a conflation of processes that generate a certain amount of GHG per year and processes that generate a certain amount of GHG on a one-off basis.Report

Kenny
Kenny
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

I think one of the big issues is that animal agriculture (and most other modern agriculture) just *isn’t* run as a closed cycle. There are huge inputs of fertilizers (often from petrochemical sources) and lots of outputs that end up in landfills rather than being cycled back in to replenish soil nutrients and so on. Given those imbalances, it wouldn’t be surprising if there are also imbalances in the gases that are consumed and produced by the process as a whole.

In the long run, if animal agriculture eventually reaches a steady state, with closed-cycle inputs and outputs, then your overall point is completely right – it should just result in a one-off net change in atmospheric concentrations of some gases. And since current animal agriculture is not done in a sustainable way, it will at some point change into such a steady state.

But this fact that animal agriculture is done unsustainable is exactly the point for atmospheric concentrations of gases as well. If we had a sustainable system, then you’re completely right that we’d only need to consider one-off changes in total levels. But as long as it’s unsustainable, there can actually be a yearly flow of increased methane or whatever.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

: That sounds extremely plausible – but it would be good to see some modelling. Too much of the internet commentary on the issue (even at the relatively sophisticated end) seems to equate the increase/yr in atmospheric methane with the emissions of methane/yr by animals. That can’t be right. (While by contrast it clearly is right for fossil fuels, where the replenishment timescale is negligible.)Report

Anja
5 years ago

“As global warming forces a fundamental re-imagining of how we live on Earth, we have the chance to choose adaptive strategies that create justice and honor life, and refuse those that protect and perpetuate injustice and destruction. To that end, I offer five essentially moral questions that I believe we should ask of every plan for adaptation to climate change…” http://www.humansandnature.org/earth-ethic-kathleen-dean-mooreReport

Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins
5 years ago

Re Kathleen Dean Moore’s piece: Excellent! But where are the other philosophers? Is climate change really such a “philosophically uninteresting” issue?Report

Ronniew Hawkins
Ronniew Hawkins
5 years ago

David–

Have you ever heard of the ecological pyramid? It has been elegantly described by Aldo Leopold–solar energy is trapped by green plants through photosynthesis, herbivorous animals consume some of them and convert that energy into their own bodies, with about 90% of it being lost in the conversion process, omnivores and carnivores consume some of them and lose another 90% in the conversion process, and so on, with fewer and fewer animals able to be sustained at each step up the food chain, making a “pyramidal” structure (conceptually) because of the physics of the energy system. (That’s why big, fierce predatory animals are so sparsely distributed over the land and in the seas, and why they are so vulnerable to extinction.) We humans are primates, which are not biologically carnivores at all (except for some small insectivores), nor were we biologically meant to live in huge populations. But with our technologies, going back to the development of agriculture, we have been able to “beat the system,” temporarily. Our population is now so huge that we are consuming almost half of the NPP, the total amount of solar energy trapped by all the green plants on the planet over the course of a year. This is leaving less and less for all the other animal life on the planet, and this usurpation (combined with all the other ways we are damaging ecosystems, including global warming and ocean acidification) is causing an accelerating extinction spasm, increasingly fraying the web of Life on planet Earth.

It is astonishing to me that most people are so ignorant of this very basic fact about ecosystem structure, and that so many of us are caught up in a primitive drive to “compete” in a mad dash for the supposedly prestigious meat-based diet, which again, biologically, is not healthy for us, being the primates that we are. Our species cannot long continue on along our present trajectory–we are already far into overshoot with 7 billion, let alone with more and more of them trying to move further and further up food chains. Animal agriculture on a vast, centralized scale not only generates abundant methane, requires a great deal of fossil fuel input, and consumes a tremendous amount of water, it is offensively un-ecological, cruel to the animals, and completely unnecessary as a way of feeding humanity. Please extend your investigation of climate change to include an understanding of all the factors leading to the human-caused “Sixth Extinction,” and why this is going to be so devastating, if it continues to accelerate, not only for us but for the vast majority of all highly evolved species on the planet. And then spread the word–the idea that developing nations have a “right” to live just as stupidly as we in the industrialized world currently do is a key part of the paradigm that must be changed.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 years ago

@Ronnie Hawkins: okay, I misunderstood. I took you as saying “Western levels of consumption don’t bring about human well-being even in themselves”. You’re saying rather that they won’t bring about human well-being in aggregate because they’re not viable across the human population as a whole, even if they’re good in themselves?

If so, that’s much more plausible. I’m still not convinced, though. On the particular issue of agriculture: you said specifically that we need to cut it back in order to deal with climate change. I can’t see what in your argument supports that. At most it’s a case for not increasing it, and/or making it carbon-neutral (agriculture doesn’t require fossil fuel input per se; it requires energy and transport). Most of the rest of your case seems to be for other disadvantages of animal agriculture – it’s unecological, it’s cruel, it’s unhealthy, it harms biodiversity – which, whether or not correct, don’t seem to have a lot to do with climate change.

On specifics:
(1) yes, I know about the ecological pyramid. But I don’t see its relevance here. To establish that we need to reduce agriculture to address climate change, it doesn’t do to point out that we *could* reduce our agricultural footprint by giving up meat, absent the case as to why addressing climate change *requires* us to do so.
(2) I’m not sure why meat-eating habits (or lack thereof) in other primates are particularly relevant. The scientific evidence that humans in particular are evolutionarily adapted to a part-meat diet, and have eaten meat for millions of years, is pretty overwhelming. See, e.g., http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/evidence-for-meat-eating-by-early-humans-103874273Report

Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins
5 years ago

I think what’s needed is a holistic, systems-level perspective to understand what we humans are doing wrong, how it is that we are living unsustainably at the species level. Unfortunately, our cultural emphasis on reductionism and linear thinking makes this hard to do. It’s misleading to focus on “just” a simple cause-effect connection between animal agriculture and climate change. And you haven’t said anything about human population growth (nothing can “grow” forever within a finite system) or about the extinction crisis, which is an extremely serious problem that goes well beyond climate change. A central point of the new paradigm we need to adopt is a move to seeing things whole, in all their complexity and interconnection, rather than in the increasingly fragmented way that results from “analytic” thinking that lacks a counterbalancing effort toward knowledge integration. To the extent that it resists this and keeps us moving in the wrong direction, I hold academic philosophy partly responsible for our plight.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 years ago

@ Ronnie Hawkins:

“I think what’s needed is a holistic, systems-level perspective to understand what we humans are doing wrong, how it is that we are living unsustainably at the species level. ”

I could believe it, but you haven’t given an argument (here, at any rate) that we need that perspective. At present I’m not convinced that this “holistic” approach isn’t in danger of confusing the issue by conflating different factors together. (And, in this particular case, of begging the question as to whether (a) we’re living unsustainably at the species level in some broad and general sense, or (b) we have a series of discrete, challenging, problems to solve.)

“It’s misleading to focus on “just” a simple cause-effect connection between animal agriculture and climate change.”

You claimed (in your first post) that we can’t address climate change without addressing animal agriculture. That seems to require a “cause-effect connection”.

“you haven’t said anything about human population growth (nothing can “grow” forever within a finite system) or about the extinction crisis, which is an extremely serious problem that goes well beyond climate change.”

I’ve said exactly one thing about human population growth: my request, in my original post, for the science of why addressing climate change unavoidably requires that we significantly alter the population growth rate. I don’t think anyone has responded to that request. (Your point that nothing can grow forever is obviously correct but doesn’t seem salient: we have pretty good reason to expect population growth to level off over the next century as the rest of the world undergoes its demographic transition. The issue isn’t the spectre of indefinite growth; it’s whether a world population of c.11 billion in 2100 is incompatible with addressing climate change.)

I’ve said nothing about the extinction crisis because, as you say, it “goes well beyond climate change”, and this thread is about climate change. As it happens I think the extinction crisis is pretty important, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the agriculture/climate change relationship.

“A central point of the new paradigm we need to adopt is a move to seeing things whole, in all their complexity and interconnection, rather than in the increasingly fragmented way that results from “analytic” thinking that lacks a counterbalancing effort toward knowledge integration. To the extent that it resists this and keeps us moving in the wrong direction, I hold academic philosophy partly responsible for our plight.”

Again, I could be persuaded that we need to adopt that new paradigm. But at present, it looks as if calls for a new paradigm have had rather little impact on addressing climate change, compared to specific technocratic measures like the Obama administration’s use of the EPA and of subsidies for solar power development (the latter is now competitive with coal even without allowing for externalities).Report

Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins
5 years ago

The problem with asking for an “argument” (as is always the expectation in academic philosophy) is that my starting premises are likely to be very different from yours, because the first half of my education was in biology, human medicine, and ecological science, before I got my PhD in philosophy. I already had a holistic perspective on how the biosphere functions, and in fact went into philosophy in order to try to understand why we (at least in western culture) were choosing to live in ways that were so ecologically inappropriate. And indeed, I think I learned a lot about that “why.” I started out thinking it was largely a problem of ethics, but on further reflection it seems that most of us are still living in a Cartesian world, since there has been a great failure of those who consider themselves ontologists/metaphysicians to integrate the knowledge we have acquired from science into an updated worldview that is adequate for framing our human situation in the 21st century.

You say you are aware of the “ecological pyramid,” but did you ever try to place humans within that picture and grasp how we might best fit into the biosphere? I suspect not–the Cartesian view holds us to be separate from and superior to all other life on the planet, able to manipulate all else at will with no repercussions, and though we may “know” it’s deeply flawed, it seems still to be structuring all our background assumptions. And the methods of analyzing things down into smaller and smaller parts without subsequently striving to grasp how they function together in an intact system (a problem of purely “reductionist” science), and of analyzing things in terms of “concepts” when those very concepts are badly outdated to begin with (a way in which philosophers spin their wheels, playing word games), take us farther and farther away from being able to make sense of our reality (the very existence of which some philosophers like to deny or demand an “argument” for).

Instead of trying to compose an “argument” that could in some way connect with all of your unarticulated assumptions, I would suggest that, if you are interested (which I accept is probably unlikely), you might try reading some of the Earth Systems science that is employed in modeling not only climate change but many other aspects of biosphere function; a good book to prepare the ground for doing that would be Donella Meadow’s _Thinking in Systems: A Primer_. Another book that I would highly recommend for understanding how lopsided our western thinking has become, all analysis with no synthesis, all linear “logic” with no grasping of complex wholes, is Iain McGlichrist’s _The Master and His Emissary_, heavy on the neuroscience but well worth reading as a way out of the cul-de-sac in which our culture is currently trapped.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 years ago

I don’t think asking for an argument (or, more broadly, asking for a specific piece of evidence-based reasoning) is some pathology of academic philosophy: I think it’s a general feature of the scientific method. If we don’t agree on that then I suspect this conversation isn’t going to be productive.Report

Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins
5 years ago

David–
My initial comment was in praise of Catriona McKinnon’s mention of continuing human population growth and expanding animal agriculture because these two topics are often shunned in academic discussions, and I think it’s high time we got over this kind of head-in-the-sand approach, brushing certain topics under the carpet because they might make people “uncomfortable.” The exponential human population growth of the last century or so is the big driver of all of our “environmental” problems–were we still under 2 billion, the anthropogenic global destabilization of the biosphere would not be occurring as it is–but coupling this growth with rapidly increasing levels of consumption per capita is putting more and more pressure on planetary systems, pressure that cannot be sustained much longer. There was recognition of the problematic nature of continuing population growth (and the surprisingly sudden rapid increase in anything that grows exponentially toward the end of its run, which always must come to an end when you’re dealing with physical systems) about 50 years ago, when people like Paul Ehrlich began speaking up about it, but instead of the rich countries clearly acknowledging it and working with those less well off to make the means of limiting family size available to everyone, there was a retreat into denialism, own-group-ism and finger-pointing, the rich criticizing the poor for having large families and the poor pointing back condemning their consumption rate, and essentially nothing being done about these two linked problems over the intervening decades–so much time we lost in this stand-off, time when we could have been optimizing conditions for the population we had back then and moving into sustainability with so many fewer difficulties!

Why was this allowed to happen? Well, some of the background assumptions seemed to include an arrogant pride in humans being able to “conquer the world,” the notion that only human life was valuable and so there could not be “too much of a good thing,” the linking of male prestige with fathering many children (and often male children), and so on, plus a continuing “externalization” of the Earth Systems because of an increasingly narrow focus on the abstract, socially constructed game that we call “economics,” itself likely a result of our growing fascination with the abstract and the quantitative over the concrete and the qualitative, as McGilchrist describes–the one-way linear thinking that idolizes perpetual “growth” and fails to understand that, while in the realm of abstract mathematics there may be growth in numbers to infinity, there cannot be infinite growth of any part of a physical system (of course, this type of thinking doesn’t even grasp the notion of a “system” at all). Ecological scientists have been aware of the faultiness of this kind of reasoning for a long time, and have watched our mounting problems unfold over the decades, but few others, even in the academic community, have integrated that understanding into their worldview–the social inertia of that Cartesian fantasy (which seems to include belief in the possibility of infinite growth along the Cartesian axes with which we subconsciously frame all of our endeavors) has simply been too much for them.

One of the articles I have found most useful for understanding the state of the planet and our trajectory on it from the Earth Systems science literature is “The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship,” by Will Steffen et al., _Ambio_ (2011) 40: 739-761. It includes a series of graphs depicting many parameters, from human population growth itself to growth in atmospheric GHGs, fertilizer consumption, water use, exploitation of ocean fisheries, and loss of forested terrestrial ecosystems, to growth in the number of land lines and cell phones and the number of McDonald’s restaurants worldwide. Most all of these are in the form of exponentially rising J-curves, growing so steeply toward the end of the frame that they go almost vertical. Growth in “animal agriculture” per se is not among them, but one may assume that it roughly parallels the growth in McDonald’s–like I’ve been trying to say, that’s only one of many, many factors leading to our present predicament. The reason I picked up on it in the above commentary is that it’s one that is so completely unnecessary, as well as wasteful and cruel. Given that we have a huge population that is continuing to expand, many more people can be fed with vegetable-based diets–an obvious inference from the “ecological pyramid”–and it seems that the desire for prestige, to “compete” with people in the industrialized world, is what is driving the many people in the more populous countries to want to make this move up the food chain, when what should be happening, if we as a species want to live more sustainably by consuming less of the planet’s resources, is that people in the rich countries should be moving down. But instead, we in the developed world who should and often do “know better” continue to enjoy our steaks and hamburgers, and even academics who agree with the ethicists that intensive animal confinement operations are morally wrong turn their eyes away and clean their plates–this is the kind of denialism I find so offensive.

So when you said
“A fixed-size population of living organisms, subsisting directly or indirectly on foodstuffs that are regrown once eaten, is carbon-neutral qua biological system. So there shouldn’t be any net carbon dioxide generated by our current population of agricultural animals themselves. Similarly, even a much larger human population wouldn’t itself generate more carbon dioxide. In both cases our current means of supporting/utilising those populations do generate lots of carbon dioxide, but that’s via transport and energy generation. So if (and of course it’s a big if) we can work out how to decarbonise our transport and energy-generation systems, what is the supposed additional climate-change effect of an expanded population or of animal agriculture?”
I saw so many things wrong with this, some of which were pointed out by Marcus and Kenny as well as by me–of course our animal agriculture generates methane, an even stronger GHG molecule-for-molecule than CO2, and of course our enormous, centralized factory farms require feedstuffs grown with huge inputs of petrochemicals, in addition to what is needed for transport, plus enormous amounts of aquifer-depleting water–that I didn’t continue to address it as an isolated issue. The most obvious problem with what you say here, however, is that you somehow fail to confront the fact that this, along with so many of the other ecosystem-destabilizing factors, is CONTINUING TO INCREASE, even as you yourself use the word “expanded.” What do you mean, starting out your comment with “a fixed-size population of organisms”? “Fixed” at what size, in relation to what it was a century ago? “Fixed” in what way, given our eternal push for unending “growth” in everything? And how can you say “even a much larger human population wouldn’t itself generate more carbon dioxide”–more than what, if an additional, large number of people continue consuming at the same or greater rate than our present population does now? These statements seem so contrary to our reality that I can only interpret them as confabulatory, intended to further justify the status quo of denialism.

So, given all of the above as making up the “premises” from which I start, how would you suggest that I formulate an “argument”?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 years ago

If the starting point of my interlocutor is that I’m being confabulatory, then I *really* suspect this conversation isn’t going to be productive. So I think I’ll bow out here.Report

Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

Sorry–I tried to be informative, providing info on sources where you could learn more about the science of complex systems, and about an alternative way of thinking that is not confined to dealing solely with parts and pieces through a linear, cause-effect logic. I don’t mean to be insulting–if you weren’t being confabulatory, maybe you could explain a little more clearly what you had in mind by talking about “a fixed-size population” when the populations of both human beings and their livestock are continually increasing–were you merely speaking hypothetically? To what end ? I’m afraid the perception of many critical parameters being in a state of continual growth is a central “premise” from which I must start any “argument” regarding what we must do to return the biosphere to a sustainable state–pointing to the multiple J-curves presented in the Steffen et al. article is the “evidence” I provided for this. If you don’t accept this premise of multifactorial increases in human-caused change (growth in animal agriculture being one of them) driving the Earth System into climate change, biodiversity loss, and other sorts of destabilization, or don’t think it’s important enough to acknowledge and address this continual “growth,” then I have to agree that further discussion is not likely to be productive.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Ronnie Hawkins
5 years ago

Quick response only as I’m in the middle of Oxford admissions:

1) median UN estimates have the human population levelling off at around 10-12 billion around 2100 as the demographic transition makes its way through the developing world. There’s only so much meat one can eat, so a ceiling on the human population puts a ceiling on the animal-agriculture population. So I don’t think I buy the “continual growth” case in this particular instance. The issue isn’t whether indefinite growth is incompatible with addressing climate change; it’s whether growth to those 2100 numbers is.
2) I partly talked about a fixed-size population simply because you stated that we would have to *reduce* animal agriculture to address climate change. That implies that a *fixed* level of animal agriculture isn’t compatible with addressing climate change, even given carbon-neutral energy and transport sectors.
3) My point about steady-state systems actually is an example of how thinking about components in isolation gets us into trouble. You can’t simply take the amount of GHGs emitted by animals per year and translate that into a net increase in GHGs per year – you have to allow for the other processes that are part of the system. On straight conservation-of-mass grounds a given population of animals fed off grown resources can’t indefinitely emit net GHGs.Report

marcus
marcus
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

Even if we leave aside the back end of the carbon life cycle, and even if we accept that the world population will, without considering the effects of climate change itself, level off at 10 – 12 million (And I think there are reasons to be skeptical), it’s important to note that with that kind of population change, per capita emissions would have to be cut by more than 33% – 50% to simply stay on the same emissions trajectory with respect to global temperature targets. To put that number in perspective, its a significantly greater percentage than what the U.S. has pledged to cut by 2025.

Moreover, even though there’s only “so much meat one can eat,” the percentage of the world’s population that’s eating more than a minimal amount of meat in their diet is also growing at a significant rate.

Yes — there is a ceiling for emissions, that’s absolutely true — But we could have concluded that fact just by looking at the finite amount of fossil fuels in the ground. The fact that our carbon footprint is not infinitely expandable offers little solace or solution.

Most importantly, claiming that we have to *reduce* animal agriculture to address climate change does NOT imply that a *fixed* level of animal agriculture isn’t compatible with addressing climate change, even given carbon-neutral energy and transport sectors.

The reason one can not conclude a problem with the steady state clean energy uptopia from the pragmatic and ethical imperative is that in this, the actual world of things, a) we currently lack carbon-neutral energy and transport sectors (a claim which is non-controversially true) and more importantly b) we no longer have even an outside chance of having widespread carbon-neutral energy and transport sectors early enough to eliminate the concerns regarding animal agriculture and human populations. Maybe that wan’ts true in 1989, even 2001, but it’s the world we face today. To believe otherwise is to under-appreciate the severity of the problem.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  marcus
5 years ago

That certainly works as an answer, in principle. Can you point me to a quantitative model?Report

Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

If you want quantitative models, you might try looking into Earth Systems science, as I have suggested before. Oh but wait, the way “philosophy” is practiced these days, you aren’t allowed to think in terms of whole systems, only billiard-ball collisions between single “causes” and single “effects.” You ignore the way Jane Goodall links animal agriculture to the destruction of tropical forests so that more and more acreage can be devoted to growing crops for cattle feed and the fact that deforestation is a significant contributor to climate change in itself, releasing all the carbon locked up in the trees themselves. You say you think the extinction crisis is “pretty important,” but maintain that it “doesn’t have anything to do with the agriculture/climate change relationship,” in keeping with this highly fragmented way of thinking, even though tropical forests are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet and the number of species being pushed into extinction as a result of this deforestation is staggering. You might take a look at John Rockstrom’s now-classic article, “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity”(_Nature_ 461 (2009): 472-475), in which planetary boundaries that should not be crossed are identified for nine ongoing anthropogenic processes; both climate change and the rate of biodiversity loss have already crossed these boundaries. along with human interference in the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles as a result of modern agriculture–yes, these can be quantified as separate factors, but to understand what’s actually going on you need to grasp their interactions within the complex system that is the biosphere. But you would rather fantasize about a “possible world” in which we can add another 3-5 _billion_ people (not “million” as Marcus says above) and have them all move up the ecological pyramid a trophic level or two and then imagine this enormous “fixed population” of humans and livestock can be supported indefinitely without having any repercussions on the rest of the system. An astonishing failure of cognitive processing, or just hypocritical self-delusion so that you can go on enjoying your next juicy hamburger?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  marcus
5 years ago

@Ronnie Hawkins I took you at your word that you “didn’t mean to be insulting”; that was clearly a mistake. I’ll return to my original intent to step out of the conversation.Report

Marcus
Marcus
Reply to  marcus
5 years ago

Billion not million – obviously – that’s definitely a typo. But what’s three orders of magnitude among friends?Report

Marcus
Marcus
Reply to  marcus
5 years ago

In
O’Neill BC, Dalton M, Fuchs R, Jiang L, Pachaui S, Zigova K. “Global demographic trends and future carbon emissions,” Proc Natl Acad Sci 107 (2010), 17521–17526
The authors assess the global implications of demographic change by developing a set of economic growth, energy use, and emissions scenarios using an energy–economic growth model.Report

Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins
5 years ago

Jane Goodall at COP 21 on Climate Change and Animal Agriculture:

If you read the facts, I don’t see how you can come to any other conclusion but that it’s our misuse of fossil fuels, the emissions—from agriculture, from industry, from households—the vast impact that’s being made by this intensive farming of animals. And in order to feed the billions and billions of cows and pigs and chickens, even if you don’t care about the cruelty, even if you refuse to admit that these are individuals with feelings, who feel pain and have emotions, even if you don’t admit that, you have to admit huge areas of forest are cut down to grow grain to feed them. Intensive cattle grazing is turning forests to woodland, to scrubland. And food in one end, gas out both ends, that’s methane. And that’s an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It’s about 36 percent of all methane emissions come from this intensive farming.

http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2015/12/11/jane_goodall_at_cop21_i_mReport

Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins
5 years ago

Also from Jane Goodall:
“So, basically, the chimpanzees opened the door for a new way of thinking about animals, to admit that we are not the only beings with personality, mind and emotions, and that it makes us ask the question: But we are different, so what’s the biggest difference? Development of the intellect. How is it possible that the most intellectual creature that’s ever walked the planet is destroying its only home?”
How it is, is that we’re still living in a Cartesian world, thanks in part to philosophers who haven’t been doing their job of updating our ontology, and keeping the “development of our intellect” purely in the left hemisphere mode of analysis and linearity, oblivious to the complexity of life on the planet.Report