The environmental crisis will lead to a collapse of the infrastructure of civilization. In fact, the impact of climate change is most likely more horrific than we can possibly imagine. These are both facts stated in Allan Thompson’s article, “A World They Don’t Deserve: Moral failure and deep adaptation.” Thompson bases his argument on two main assumptions: first, that the future conditions of the natural world are “deeply uncertain”; and two that the members of the current generation have a moral responsibility to protect the livelihoods of future generations through the mitigation of anthropogenic climate change. I agree with both of these assumptions, however I think that he is discounting a few very important other assumptions in his argument.
Thompson’s article is based entirely on an anthropocentric worldview, meaning that he considers that the value of ecosystems and the natural world is instrumental rather than intrinsic. It is essential to recognize the intrinsic value of nature, not just for the sake of recognition, but also because it plays an enormous role in awareness and support for conservation policy. This article would lose a significant amount of validity if considered from an ecocentric point of view; it is impossible to apply deep adaptation principles to something that no longer exists. In this light, Thomspon’s discussion about novel ecosystems is a justification for ecosystem destruction, and a way for humans to continue exploiting already overburdened natural systems.
The idea of Derek Parfit’s Non-Identity Problem is fascinating, but I think it is applied a bit out of context. The environmental crisis is not only a future problem, it is a current problem. The victims of climate change are not some unknown, arbitrary people; they are citizens of the global south, coastal cities and towns, indigenous communities, and your (future) children and grandchildren. While the Non-Identity Problem argues that it is not immoral to fail to act on behalf of future generations, current generations are being devastated and it is immoral to fail to act on behalf of them.
In response to the ecological crisis and the moral failure of our generation, Allan Thompson suggests an apology. After his discussion of institution-collapsing and horrific repercussions of inaction, this seems far from sufficient. Thompson elaborates on his idea of an apology, including the component of “real effort”. My contention with his apology deepens here; how successful will an effort to repair a damaged world be when it has already been accepted that the world is doomed? If we can’t find funding to take action now, where will the funding come from when there truly is no hope for improvement? Furthermore, Thompson argues that if we can improve social institutions it will help compensate for our lack of environmental actions. At the beginning of his paper Thompson makes the assumption that the future conditions of the natural world are “deeply uncertain”. Taking this assumption into account, how can we be sure that social institutions will function the same as they do today, or even remain intact? It seems as if the focus on social institutions is a distraction from environmental crises.
This course of action is not enough. Responses to climate change and environmental injustices cannot wait until we realize that it is too late. The burdens of climate change will not fall on generations far into the future, they will fall on my generation. I don’t want to live in a world with novel ecosystems and a geoengineered atmosphere, and I don’t want your apology.