Climate change presents us with a pressing challenge. A global consensus accepts that human activity is responsible for climate change and its associated dangers. However, there is disagreement on how best to address this challenge. The essay argues that leading proposals are unsatisfactory, such as the ecological footprint and polluter pays principle. The reasons include that they do not effectively manage climate change and may contribute to further problems. We require a new approach to address climate change.
Even if you don’t accept the consensus on AGW, I suspect that few of you would say with confidence that there is zero chance of the IPCC being correct, and zero future risk. With that starting point, consider this paper by Thom Brooks of the University of Newcastle Law School “How Not to Save the Planet.” Full paper is available online via oneclick download.
From the Introduction:
Our challenge is not to consider whether there is climate change, but how best to respond to it. While a global consensus accepts the existence of climate change, there is wide disagreement on how best to address this challenge. Mainstream proposals generally support one of two competing approaches. Both approaches aim to effectively manage climate change to ensure its associated dangers do not lead to the planet becoming inhospitable for human beings. One approach is largely conservationist. Its goal is to reduce carbon emissions in order to end further contributing to climate change and, thus, better manage associated dangers by decreasing continued climate changes. A second approach is more focused on adaptation strategies. The goal is to better adapt ourselves to the environment so we become more effectively protected from the associated dangers of climate change. Whilst most proposals are to some extent impure and incorporate both conservation and adaptation measures, there remains a clear division between these approaches in the greater priority given to one measure over the other.
I will argue that existing proposals are unsatisfactory. The reasons include that they fail to offer satisfactory proposals for future sustainability and lead to additional problems. My hope is to provide a more clear understanding of where existing proposals have gone wrong in order to demonstrate how future proposals may improve.
From the Conclusion:
These strategies share in a common mistake concerning the nature of the central problem. Both conservation and adaptation proponents claim their approach can solve the problems associated with climate change. Conservationists argue that adopting a policy based around ecological footprints or a polluter pays principle will lead to a sustainable future. Adaptation proponents claim we should focus our efforts on adapting to future climate change along with modest reductions in carbon emissions to ensure a sustainable future. Both approaches aim to offer an end-state solution to the problem of climate change: ‘The world now has the technologies and financial resources to stabilize climate’.
This is a mistake because there may be no happy ever after. It is false to believe that only human activity influences climatic changes or that human activity might end it. The problem is that we cannot stop the climate from changing. Our climate will change regardless of human activity and it has changed many times before human beings evolved: the problem is not that the climate is changing, but that it is changing so quickly. End-state solutions to the problem of climate change may be doomed to fail. Environmental catastrophe is not something to be avoided, but rather an event at best postponed.
Does this ultimately hand victory to the strategy of adaptation? No, it does not. The fact that our climate will change is not reason to exacerbate the arrival of unknown future conditions and our doing nothing will only make the situation much worse. Instead, we might approach climate change from a new perspective. Our focus should not only be on how we might reduce our environmental impact, but we should extend our focus to other questions: How to save the planet? Does it matter if an ice age is inevitable?
Philosophers have been mistaken to believe a sustainable future is an end-state and our primary focus. Instead, this may only be the beginning. If the climate may continually change, then we must change with it. This is the daunting challenge we face. Saving the plant may require more effort than we have thought.
JC comment: IMO, this paper frames the challenge in a way that should spark some useful dialogue on the topic.
By. Judith Curry of Climate Etc.