Still Lookin’ Out for #1

Photo was taken from in-class lecture slides – Peter Clark [Data from SSP database (IIASA), CDIAC/GCP]
In his paper, “A World They Don’t Deserve,” Allen Thompson clearly concludes that the current generation that controls climate policy has failed, will fail, and can conceivably do nothing but fail to consciously act with the best interest of the human future in mind. He makes it clear for an ethical and physical need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yet argues that there is little evidence to suggest that this will happen, largely based on the capitalist mindset that drives a materialistic perspective. He further argues that the current generation’s land-use policies continue to drive the current climate crisis, a problem which is also linked largely to a capitalist perspective of resources. Ultimately, Thompson points to human greed, a reoccurring theme throughout the past few weeks – as the root of the problem; a problem he seems to say “we” will not change, largely due to the narcissistic philosophy shared by the current dominant generation.

While these points are largely true and disheartening, what is most disheartening is the ethical debate offered throughout the paper of whether we should give up, rollover, and simply forfeit to climate change and try to improve the lives of future generations in other aspects of life be it cancer research, or literally doing nothing because of the Non-Identity Problem, or invest in social institutions as a form of apology to future generations.

First, the argument that cancer research may better benefit future generations RATHER THAN climate change mitigations is honestly quite appalling. It suggests that we can continue to make conditions worse for some while making some conditions slightly better for all. By this, I mean that climate change will ultimately impact certain communities more than others, such as southern countries, coastal cities, impoverished communities, and minorities (such as indigenous groups). Cancer research will help only those impacted, and not to be too morbid, but it’s only going to keep more of us around to further the effects of climate crisis (not that I don’t value cancer research, just not INSTEAD of climate change mitigation).

Secondly, the Non-Identity Problem is not something that really has a place in the climate crisis. This isn’t some philosophical debate. The effects may be uncertain, but the baseline for the disaster is comprehensible enough to propose this argument is to devalue the lives of all future generations. This argument is an interesting philosophical idea, but not here, not now, and not one that will hold any ground later.

Finally, an apology is good if it holds true to what Thompson proposes as the third element of a good apology: “restitution, actions in an attempt to rectify or compensate for the transgression.” Social institutions are not adequate restitution. If you can go as far as considering an apocalyptic scenario in a hypothetical playout of a climate change scenario (no matter how theoretical), you can’t possibly suggest social institutions as adequate compensation for climate destruction.

The problems outlines are too grave, and it is clear that the understanding of these problems is quite solid. To propose such inaction followed by such a soft apology feels like an insult to the future and a way to justify inaction in order to continue the “aim to lead good [life].” Start looking out for the future, not always the self.

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