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Ethical Adaptation to Climate Change

Ethical Adaptation to Climate Change: Human Virtues of the Future

Allen Thompson
Jeremy Bendik-Keymer
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Ethical Adaptation to Climate Change
    Book Description:

    Predictions about global climate change have produced both stark scenarios of environmental catastrophe and purportedly pragmatic ideas about adaptation. This book takes a different perspective, exploring the idea that the challenge of adapting to global climate change is fundamentally an ethical one, that it is not simply a matter of adapting our infrastructures and economies to mitigate damage but rather of adapting ourselves to realities of a new global climate. The challenge is to restore our conception of humanity--to understand human flourishing in new ways--in an age in which humanity shapes the basic conditions of the global environment. In the face of what we have unintentionally done to Earth's ecology, who shall we become? The contributors examine ways that new realities will require us to revisit and adjust the practice of ecological restoration; the place of ecology in our conception of justice; the form and substance of traditional virtues and vices; and the organizations, scale, and underlying metaphors of important institutions. Topics discussed include historical fidelity in ecological restoration; the application of capability theory to ecology; the questionable ethics of geoengineering; and the cognitive transformation required if we are to "think like a planet."The hardcover edition does not include a dust jacket.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30154-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    AT and JBK
  4. Introduction: Adapting Humanity
    (pp. 1-24)
    Allen Thompson and Jeremy Bendik-Keymer

    When we take all of our core values seriously, they can make tough demands on us. This is the case regarding climate change, where our values ought to commit us to a robust understanding of adapting ourselves to a new global climate. As many have argued, climate change is not just a scientific or economic matter but is anethicalone as well (e.g., Gardiner 2011; Gardiner et al. 2010; Jamieson 1992, revised and reprinted as chapter 9, this volume). Focusing on ethical concerns, we may ask “whatshouldbecome of us under global climate change?” In light of this...

  5. I Adapting Restoration to Climate Change

    • 1 Nature Restoration as a Paradigm for the Human Relationship with Nature
      (pp. 27-46)
      Ned Hettinger

      Throughout most of the twentieth century, preservation was the reigning nature-protection paradigm. On this view, protecting nature involves setting aside nature preserves and keeping them “untrammeled by man” (U.S. Congress 1964). For preservationists, nature’s key value is its “naturalness” or “wildness,” that is, the degree to which it is independent of human influence. According to this paradigm, humans are, by and large, separate from nature and human involvement with nature degrades it. Among the virtues preservationism promotes are moderation, humility, and fairness.

      In the last quarter century, however, nature restoration has become the major competing paradigm for the protection of...

    • 2 Environmental Virtues and the Aims of Restoration
      (pp. 47-62)
      William M. Throop

      The practice of ecological restoration provides an important arena within which we can work out what it means to have a moral relationship with nature today (see Throop 2000; Hettinger, chapter 1, this volume). The practice involves responding to damage for which we are responsible; it involves morally significant relations to individuals and groups—human and nonhuman—and it engages us in deliberation about who we should be in relation to evolving systems. How and when we restore reflects our images of nature and of human flourishing. Yet climate change complicates our attempts to develop a defensible moral relationship with...

    • 3 Global Warming and Virtues of Ecological Restoration
      (pp. 63-80)
      Ronald Sandler

      In this chapter, I explore the implications of global warming for virtues associated with ecological restoration and assisted recovery. In doing so, I begin from the premise that global warming is now part of the ecological present and future of the planet. Returning to climactic trajectories that would have obtained absent anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, if possible at all, would require massive and, in my view, illadvised technological interventions (Hegerl and Solomon 2009; Gardiner 2010 and chapter 12, this volume). Therefore, I take seriously the idea that global warming needs to inform our ecological practices and ethics as an...

    • 4 History, Novelty, and Virtue in Ecological Restoration
      (pp. 81-102)
      Eric Higgs

      The science and practice of ecological restoration have thrived for several decades on the idea that historical knowledge anchors our judgments and practice. The approach has shifted from the idea of fixed reference points to more recent process-oriented configurations. All of this is poised to change. The intensification of anthropogenic environmental and ecological change¹ is moving the bar and the baseline: it is no longer clear what, if any, historical references are appropriate for restoration. Moreover, there are concerns that restoration as we know it may pass on, and certainly global processes of change challenge the local and regional focus...

  6. II Integrating Ecology into the Virtue of Justice

    • 5 The Death of Restoration?
      (pp. 105-122)
      Andrew Light

      The science and practice of restoration ecology has traditionally been tied to some understanding of environmental history. As opposed to other kinds of environmental management, the justification primarily used for an ecological restoration is to return an ecosystem, a place, or even a species to some state representative of some point in its past in order to glean some environmental benefit such as mitigating pollution or maintaining and increasing biodiversity.¹ While invoking history as a parameter for selecting and designing restoration projects has sometimes led to problems—most notably the unfortunate period in North America when many labored under the...

    • 6 Animal Flourishing and Capabilities in an Era of Global Change
      (pp. 123-144)
      Jozef Keulartz and Jac. A. A. Swart

      In part I of this book a core assumption of ecological restoration is seriously being challenged: are historical baselines or benchmarks still of any use for setting goals in ecological restoration in an era where human impact on the environment is omnipresent to such an extent that Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen has introduced the term “Anthropocene” (cf. Thompson and Bendik-Keymer, introduction to this volume)?¹ Can historical fidelity still be considered an appropriate value or virtue during such an era of large-scale human-induced environmental change? In the face of this unprecedented change, restoration to a historic standard seems to become...

    • 7 Environment as Meta-capability: Why a Dignified Human Life Requires a Stable Climate System
      (pp. 145-164)
      Breena Holland

      What are the prospects for human flourishing on a planet facing dramatic ecological changes brought on by a warming global climate? Scientific research warns of a future in which significant portions of the human population will face more drought, flooding, famine, and disease. These problems are closely related to earth’s ecology. As global temperatures rise, changes in weather patterns and severity will disrupt the flow of ecological services that people in many areas of the world now take for granted, such as groundwater recharge and availability of stable land substrates that provide a solid foundation for human homes (Millennium Assessment...

    • 8 Justice, Ecological Integrity, and Climate Change
      (pp. 165-184)
      David Schlosberg

      The “restoration” of humanity—or, more directly, humanity’s adaptation to a coming world of climate change—will come only with recognition of the human place within the rest of the natural world. In line with the themes of this volume, one key element of our adaptation to a changing climate will be a rethinking of ourselves as we interact with, and relate to, the nonhuman realm. Restoring humanity entails changing how we understand and how we relate to the lives and functioning of others—from individual animals to large-scale ecosystems—with which we are embedded in the world.

      Political theorists...

  7. III Adjusting Character to a Changing Environment

    • 9 Ethics, Public Policy, and Global Warming
      (pp. 187-202)
      Dale Jamieson

      There has been speculation about the possibility of anthropogenic global warming since at least the late nineteenth century (Arrhenius 1896, 1908). At times the prospect of such a warming has been welcomed, for it has been thought that it would increase agricultural productivity and delay the onset of the next ice age (Callendar 1938). Other times, and more recently, the prospect of global warming has been the stuff of “doomsday narratives,” as various writers have focused on the possibility of widespread drought, flood, famine, and the economic and political dislocations that might result from a “greenhouse warming”–induced climate change...

    • 10 The Virtue of Responsibility for the Global Climate
      (pp. 203-222)
      Allen Thompson

      Claims about moral responsibility for climate change are difficult to establish. One problem is that relevant harms and causes are diffuse, another is that actions of individual persons or nations can neither bring about nor prevent the phenomena (Jamieson 1992; revised as chapter 9, this volume). There are also puzzles about what it means for human beings to be responsible for the global climate. Yet thinking clearly about moral responsibility is important not only for negotiating international policy and motivating effective behavior, but also for working out the moral relationship between humanity and the rest of nature (see Hettinger, chapter...

    • 11 Rethinking Greed
      (pp. 223-240)
      Jason Kawall

      Greed is often thought to be a particularly common and troubling vice in contemporary, market-driven societies.¹ The negative effects of greed seem wide-ranging and severe: environmental harms afflicting current generations of humans (and nonhumans), exploitation of workers across the world, weakened communities, a turning away of the greedy themselves from genuine self-improvement and well-being, and, perhaps most important for present purposes, potentially devastating impacts upon future generations. With climate change—largely driven by growing human consumption—future generations face drastically changing ecosystems, massive species loss, radically changing regional climates, extreme weather systems, coastal flooding and erosion, and still further adverse...

    • 12 Are We the Scum of the Earth? Climate Change, Geoengineering, and Humanity’s Challenge
      (pp. 241-260)
      Stephen M. Gardiner

      According to many august scientific reports and bodies, humanity is currently causing environmental change at an unprecedented rate and on a global scale. Moreover, the magnitude of this change is profound. Human activities, we are told, are already ecologically unsustainable; but if current trends continue they will fast become dramatically so. Massive devastation will almost certainly be inflicted on nonhuman life; and there are strong reasons to believe that future humans and the current poor will also suffer severely.

      Despite the evidence pouring forth from the sciences, so far not much has been done to address the threat. Instead, we...

  8. IV Reorganizing Institutions to Enable Human Virtue

    • 13 The Sixth Mass Extinction Is Caused by Us
      (pp. 263-280)
      Jeremy Bendik-Keymer

      As you leave the platform for the subway in London’s Tube, you see a sign at your feet:Mind the Gap. In all the societies in which I’ve lived, there is a gapbetween character and consequence, though we are not minding it. The gap comes to the fore, to me, with the sixth mass extinction, although we can see it in climate change.

      (1) Is it reasonable to blame the gap on bad character?

      (2) If not, how should one explain the gap?

      My answers are:

      (1*) Not always. Reasonably decent people can act wantonly.¹

      (2*) The gap between...

    • 14 Human Values and Institutional Responses to Climate Change
      (pp. 281-298)
      Kenneth Shockley

      When addressing problems of the scale of those associated with climate change, it may seem that we need to design institutions to help us handle those problems. We need to develop political bodies and social regimes capable of handling what it might seem individual, uncoordinated persons are incapable of handling on their own (Goodin 1992, 1996a). I might personally desire a worldwide decarbonized economy, but unless the institutions supporting the market act appropriately, the actions I take in support of that desire may be impotent. Institutions, particularly dynamic institutions, seem crucial for adapting to our rapidly changing environment. However, even...

    • 15 Alienation and the Commons
      (pp. 299-316)
      Steven Vogel

      What does it mean to be alienated from nature? The claim that we suffer today from such alienation is familiar in environmental discourse, but it isn’t always clear what that means. Both “nature” and “alienation” are famously difficult terms, first of all, but second (as I’ll argue), under certain standard understandings of those terms nature is exactly the sort of thing from which onecannotbe alienated. In its most common interpretation, it seems to me, the claim that we’re alienated from nature doesn’t actually make much sense. And yet I do think we are alienated from somethinglikenature,...

    • 16 Thinking like a Planet
      (pp. 317-334)
      Paul D. Hirsch and Bryan G. Norton

      Throughout this book, the authors of each chapter have grappled with the question of what constitutes virtue in the context of climatic change and its attendant impacts on ecological and human systems. A central theme has been that our notion of virtue needs to adapt. Thompson and Bendik-Keymer articulate in the book’s introduction ahumanist view of adaptation, which entails “adjusting our conception of who we are to appropriately fit the new global context.” Following this line of reasoning in one direction, one might think that adapting virtue is primarily a matter of ethics, and requires rethinking questions of justice,...

  9. About the Contributors
    (pp. 335-336)
  10. Index
    (pp. 337-344)