FACTS about Recent WARMING and Calculations of Warming Damages SHOULD BE An Emergency WAKE UP CALL FOR GOVERNMENT POLICY MAKERS

The amount of recent climate warming is evidence that climate change continues to pose an increasingly significant threat to human health and ecological systems. Recent research has concluded that recent warming is much greater than anticipated. One climate scientist Ed Hawkins from the University of Reading summed up recent warming as “Surprising, astounding, staggering, bewildering, flabbergasting, disquieting, gobsmacking, and  mind-boggling.” This image depicts the monthly warming temperature anomalies.

The continuing rate of increases in temperatures is strong evidence that unless global greenhouse gas emissions can be put on a reduction pathway that can convince governments that the climate problem is under control.and the international community must respond to climate change as a global emergency. ASAP

  For this reason, we conclude that is not possible at this time to operationalize the “no harm ‘rule. which all countries agreed to in adopting the UNFCCC in 1992 at the Earth Summit. The ‘no harm’ rule is also a provision of: “customary ” international law which means there is no need to create the no-harm rule by legislation because customary international law provisions exist prior to their creation in legislation.  Why the no-harm rule has not been implemented thus far is because there was no mechanism in international law to adjudicate damages.  When the international community agreed at the recent Egyptian COP to finally create a funding mechanism for loss and damages, there was reason to believe the ‘no harm’ rule would finally be operationalized.  Yet this hope has been weakened in the last fewweeks when international negotiations to create the funding mechanism for loss and damages was discontinued because of conflicts between the developed and developing countries.

Thus the highest policy priority for the US should now be to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions to as low and as soon as possible.  

The failure to determine the amount of damages owed by those responsible for causing climate harms has been caused by the extraordinary difficulty in determining the amount  of damages from specific amounts of  CO2 in the atmosphere.. Also recent attempts to quantify damages have revealed that damage estimates are far greater than previously predicted because of certain scientific features of atmospheric CO2E that make estimates of the damages from a number of tons of atmospheric CO2e incredibly intellectually challenging,  There are certain scientific features of greenhouse gas caused warming that are different than other domestic pollution problems that citizens need to understand to critically evaluate proposed damage quantifications. 

These features include some atmospheric CO 2 stays in the atmosphere for several hundred years before they are removed by sinks. Some last potentially for thousands of years.

Features of climate change that citizens and the media need to understand to critically evaluate a government’s response to determining the damages from CO2 and the arguments of opponents of climate policies include that CO2 emissions remain in the atmosphere for a very long time. Recent attempts to quantify damages have initially found staggering damage values in the billions and occasionally trillions of dollars. 

Damages from emissions are particularly challenging to determine because co2e emissions create atmospheric co2 concentrations which continues to cause harm as long as they remain in the atmosphere. and thus damages continue to accumulate for as long as the CO2e remains in the atmosphere.

Another feature of atmospheric CO2e is that current concentrations of CO2E are a product of prior CO2 emissions which have been mixed in the atmosphere to generate current CO2e atmospheric concentrations.


Recent attempts to quantify damages have identified staggering amounts of damages because the damages have accumulated over time, See :  David Wallace Wells,  New York Times Magazine September 23. 2023. See David Wallace Wells https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/20/opinion/can-we-put-a-price-on-climate-damages.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article


emissions are very long lasting in atmosphere                            The international community needs to generate a system to trace the origins of current atmospheric CO2e concentrations.in order to determine responsibility for current atmospheric concentrations. Thus the international community needs a system to allocate responsibility, 


Comments on these issues are welcomed.

Should Developed Nations Have Followed the Lead of the Scottish Parlaiment & Heeded Adam Smith’s Warning about Merchant Class Scheming.

Because International environmental law-making seeks to achieve a solution to problems at the global scale for problems that can’t be solved at the national level, the drafting process will need to grapple with numerous issues that raise questions of fairness for each of the participating countries. The negotiating process thus usually comes up with key concepts which become the focus of later disputes about how to allocate responsibilities among nations for achieving the goals of the international treaty. The climate treaty-making came up with key concepts to guide allocation responsibilities among nations including “equity” and “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

Under the 1992 climate treaty nations agreed to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system which was later defined under the Paris Agreement to be as close as possible to 1.5 degrees C but no greater than 2.0 degrees C.

Nations also agreed to other principles that would guide their responses to climate change including the “no harm” principle which required nations to respond to climate change in a way that did hot harm other nations. The “no harm” principle is a customary principle of international law which means that it exists without the need to adopt it in law but it has been largely ignored up until now because there was no way under international law to adjudicate damages until now as the international community agreed at the Egyptian COP to create a mechanism to finance loss and damages.

Climate change also has scientific features that are different than other environmental problems which one needs to understand to grasp why developed countries may be responsible for harms in other parts of the world.


This image depicts that as CO2 emissions raise, atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise globally which cause harms globally/

This image depicts that CO2 emissions  in the atmosphere are unusually long lasting with about 80%i remaining in atmosphere for a about a hundred years until they are removed by climate sinks. But a substantial amount last for thousands of years potentially contributing to global climate harms for this time,

The significance of this is that CO2 emissions are potentially contributing to harms worldwide for a long time unless global ghg emissions are emitted at a rate no greater than levels needed prevent global warming limit goals are not exceeded,

In 2009 I was invited by the US state department to give a lecture on climate ethics to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh while they were debating a new climate law..  As i arrived a parliamentarian was already arguing that Scotland should adopt a strong target because climate change may harm other nations. Very shortly thereafter Scotland adopted a zero carbon target and explained its decision on the basis that excessive CO2 emissions potentially harmed he whole world

In 1997 while serving as Program Manager for UN organizations at US EPA during a negotiation at UN headquarters, i was invited by a member of the State Department to manage along with a colleague from the energy department a negotiation that was taking place in the UNCSD was asking nations to agree that climate change was human caused.  By this time elements of the fossil fuel industry were successfully undermining citizens faith that climate change was human caused.   Adam Smith who has been honored for explaining to society the benefits of the free hand of markets also warned that merchants would sometimes ruthlessly scheme against the public interest, At the conclusion of this negotiation in 1997 all about 160 nations that were seated in the UNCSD negotiation. including the Arab countries, agreed that climate change was human caused. This was also the conclusion of most of the most prestigious scientific institutions such as the IPCC and most National Academies of Sciences around the world.

In my three decades of teaching climate ethics around the world, most classes examined the question of how do we know that climate change is human caused.

I have discovered that the evidence of human causation is very strong and very convincing if explained properly.  The above image depicts a layer of ghgs which act like a blanket is found at the upper elevation of the lowest layer of the atmosphere the troposphere which is below the stratosphere.

Because the layer of gases act like a blanket deflecting the incoming radiation, how the radiation is deflected becomes one of 10 fingerprints of human causation of climate change


A very compelling line of evidence of human causation are attribution studies which compare how natural forces which affect the energy coming from the atmosphere to how ghgs affect the energy.  The following image depicts that only when anthropogenic forces are included in the total forcing are observations congruent with what is actually experienced.


  To this day some politicians claim that human induced climate change is a hoax.  Noone should be able to claim that climate change is a hoas


This entry tells the story of Scotland setting a zero national target because they recognized their emissions would harm other countries not to imply that other countries should set a zero target  for this reason but that developed countries should consider that their CO2e emissions may harm other countries by raising atmospheric co2 concentrations.  This fact is also support for developed nations contributing to loss and damages according to the rules of the loss and damages funding mechanism once the criteria are determined later this year.
These ideas are also support for the conclusion that all nations should consider potential harms they create to the world by their policies on climate change.  We mention this because climate policy making must consider ethical issues that arise in policy making, many of which are not spotted by policy makers who are often trained in economic and climate sciences.
Soom. Routledge Press will publish a new Handbook on Applied Climate Ethics which identifies 39 ethical issues that arise in climate policy-making which has been written by 39 authors from 15 countries.  If anyone would like to consider this new Routledge Handbook please indicate in the comment section below and will notify you when the Handbook is available


We also would like all to consider in light of the above, the enormity of the harm of the scheming of the climate change disinformation campaign some of the details of which  have been described By US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in his two recent books Captured and Scheme. We plan to summarize this in a future article on this website soon.






Responding to the False Intimidating Manipulative Smears (FIMS)


Because the POWELL Memo in 1971 Characterized organizations and activists who support of progressive causes as radical Marists, anyone who supports progressive government.programs as radical left wing activists who hate the free market system Any one who supports goveernrnment policies to reducet US federal or state GHG emissions is likely to be accused of one or more epithets such as socialist, alarmist,. ,job killer, tax and spend liberals, doomist ,and killers of  my freedom.  We will call these epithets false, intimidating, manipulative, smears or FIMS   We welcome comments on these FIMs,inccluding suggestions on additional FIMs in the contact box below

FIMS are often deployed against supporters of  government policies to solve environmental problems to put proponents of policies on the defensive while undermining public support for proposed government policies.  The most efficacious impacts of FIMS however, is to intimidate people from speaking publicly about solutions to a problem if the FIMS is widely spread.+

In the over four-decade debate about climate change in the US, the most frequent epithets hurled at proponents of climate change policies have usually been charges that the proponents are socialists, alarmists  job killers,, killers of freedom, or doomers.

Social scientists who study how powerful entities in a democracy get their way often point to the successful spread of a narrative that often includes these epithets so widely accepted that many citizens are afraid to challenge it.


Proponents of progressive government solutions to societies’ problems are often accused of being socialists or communists,

 Socialist / Communist- FIMS


Proponents of government action to achieve some common good should require the person or entity responsible for the socialist FIMS to define what he or she means by socialist.  The textbook definition of socialism is government ownership of the means o+f production-factories, farms, and enterprises. (Zakari,F,,39).  Proponents of government policies to reduce the threat of climate change or achieve some common or public good are rarely if ever socialists or communist in this sense.  Citizens have rights to ask their governments to support public goods particularly if the private sector is not adequately supporting public goods.

When US citizens have occasionally approvingly mentioned the public goods enjoyed by the Nordic counties, opponents of government provided public goods have very frequently referred to these countries as socialist.governments.to undermine public support for government supplied public goods such as health care, affordable higher education, and public transportation among many others,

When Bernie Sanders asserted that Denmark was a model of a democratic socialist state that the United States should emulate, the Prime Minister of Denmark,Lars Rasmussen, said::

Denmark is far from a socialist, planned economy, Denmark is a market economy. Denmark ranks higher than the US In the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom,  8TH DENMARK, 17TH US.  In general, Denmark, and other Northern European countries have an open, low tariff, competitive economies/

“I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy. If citizens support government financing public goods that the market is not or cannot provide such as high quality health care, education ,public transportation,these are public goods that they have a right to request their government to provide the public good.


Your violating my freedom 


Citizens never have had the freedom to harm others, protected public resources, waive legal obligations, or put others at great risk.There are many rules of international and national law  that require nations to not harm others including the “no harm” rule, ‘  and agreed upon rules of international ” human rights law that require governments to assure that  right holders enjoy human rights.


You are a doomster . Like the epithet alarmist the doomster epithet is a claim that you are interpreting the climate change problem too pessimistically



Although it is not clear what doomster means,  it likely is a claim that someone takes an overly pessimistic view of climate threats. The same is true of the “alarmist” epithet. To critically evaluate these epithets one  needs to understand what issue the epithet refers to and what CO2e reductions are required of nations,.

The job killer epithet has frequently been a response to proposed government action to achieve their CO2 reduction responsibilities goals that would require governments to achieve zero CO2e, emissions. Job elimination is not an ethically or legally acceptable justification for d  government emission reduction goals particularly if the emissions reduction target are needed to prevent great harm around the world, If governments want to preserve the jobs they can make alternative jobs available under programs like the Green New Deal


The Urgency of Preventing Legislators Who Are Climate Deniers From Blocking US Federal and State Legislation Establishing A Zero Co2e Emissions Target

There appears to be agreement among many US government officials who have concluded that the climate emergency requires the US and state governments to commit to achieve by a date certain net zero CO2e emissions and to have the commitment in place by the next climate COP in the United Arab Emirates this fall.

The United States and several US state governments have already announced net zero reduction targets to be achieved by a specific date.  However, there may be  a problem in finalizing these commitments in light of  the previous history of legislators with ties to fossil fuel interests who blocked proposed  significant targets of the executive branch which were created to establish  meaningful GHG reduction targets. For instance a recent PBS Frontline series on the Power of Big Oil described how legislators blocked proposed Obama and Biden targets.


Climate change warrants governments establishing a zero ghg reduction target not  only to comply with a government’s obligations under the Paris Agreement but also to prevent atmospheric CO2e concentrations from rising.  It is atmospheric CO2  concentrations which has been causing climate loss and damages..

The following chart helps visualize the relationship between CO2 emissions and CO2 atmospheric concentrations rise .

The following chart depicts the long-lived retention of CO2 in the atmosphere, a fact which has a profound significance for policy-making. Although approximately 80% of the CO2 emissions are removed by the ocean, forests, and other global carbon sinks in about 100 years, some of the emitted CO2 persists for tens of thousands of years.
(Yale Climate Connections, 2010)
A carbon sink is any reservoir, natural or constructed, of carbon that absorbs more carbon than it releases. Globally the most important carbon sinks are vegetation, the ocean, and soils. Because the health of carbon sinks affects the atmospheric concentration of CO2e and because carbon sinks can become less effective sinks or carbon sources in a warming world or upon a government’s failure to protect sinks, a government’s management of carbon sinks is an important element of its climate change response.
Working with others on a new Handbook on Applied Climate Ethics revealed that many who are experts in their field got their initial ethical analysis wrong because they did not understand that climate change had features that were different than other more familiar environmental problems such as air pollution.

Climate change is causing “Between 1970 and 2021, there were 11,778 reported disasters [worldwide] attributed to weather, climate, and water extremes. They caused 2,087,229 deaths and US$ 4.3 trillion in economic losses.​ ”

Last week One Earth published a peer-reviewed analysis of the cost of all this damage, caused by the 21 largest fossil fuel companies around the world. They concluded that those decision-making executives of the fossil fuel industry have inflicted over $5.4 trillion in identifiable economic damages on the rest of us which, instead of paying for, they have greedily converted to their own profit(Yale Climate Connections, 2010)

Because a rise in atmospheric C02e is responsible for most climate harms being experienced around the world and all governments agreed to abide by the “no harm” rule in adopting the UNFCCC, some of the most horrendous climate impacts may have been partially  caused by developed countries.  However since the “no harm” rule is a provision of customary international law which means nations already have a legal obligation to use due diligence to prevent activities within their jurisdiction from harming others beyond their borders under the “no harm” rule.
In the meantime an increasing number of governments around the world have committed to achieve net zero CO2 emissions and the numbers are  growing rapidly.
 A growing coalition of countries, cities, businesses and other institutions are pledging to get to net-zero emissions. More than 70 countries, including the biggest polluters – China, the United States, and the European Union – have set a net-zero target, covering about 76% of global emissions. More than 3,000 businesses and financial institutions are working with the Science-Based Targets Initiative to reduce their emissions in line with climate science. And more than 1000 cities, over 1000 educational institutions, and over 400 financial institutions have joined the Race to Zero, pledging to take rigorous, immediate action to halve global emissions by 2030.
A UN website keeps track of global efforts to establish net zero ghg reduction targets /Net Zero Coalition | United Nations

When nations used economic instruments such as putting a price on carbon to achieve a target, nations frequently found out that that they had to supplement their mechanism with an  enforcable target to achieve their reduction goal. And so an increasing number of nations have made their targets legally enforceable by a date certain. For  a list of some countries that have made their target dates enforcable see Net Zero Coalition | United Nations


What Crucial Climate Change Issues Should The Press Cover More Intensely

In this writer’s experience, the US media is more frequently covering some important climate change issues such as new dire predictions of sea level rise or other climate induced harms such as damages from storms, or the increasing speed of ice melt from large ice masses including Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheet, and other growing horrific climate impacts,

Yet this entry seeks to identify critical climate issues that citizens need to understand to effectively evaluate climate policy issues that the press is mostly failing to cover in our experience. This entry seeks to initiate an exchange among concerned citizens about important climate issues that the press is inadequately covering,   We therefore solicit comments about major climate issues that are not appearing in mainstream media discussion that citizens need to understand. This entry does not seek to criticize media working on climate change issues, in fact many are doing excellent work, but only to spot major issues that we believe are inadequately being covered by the media..

This entry was motivated by my and several of my colleagues’ conclusions that we continue to be startled by how many US citizens we run into who seem to not understand how serious climate change is nor the significance of some climate change policy issues about which there appears to be widespread ignorance. We are also  blown away by the large number of Americans who still seem to believe that climate change is not caused by humans. The disinformation campaign has worked.

This concern has been deepened by the failure of governments or any NGOs, at least in our experience, to acknowledge the policy significance of the millions of refugees that would be caused by expected climate impacts that were predicted by the Army War blown  College in 1997. There is little doubt that millions of these refugees will be created by rising seas  yet our legislatures are still  dominated by climate deniers. This issue is now on the top of the international agenda now that nations have agreed to fund a “loss and  damage” mechanism which  was agreed to last year’s Egyptian COP.  Allocating responsibility for eligible loss and damages funding is likely to be different from how nations allocate responsibility for reducing emissions to achieve the Paris Agreement ‘s 1.5 C and 2.0C warming limit goals.

Issue 1. The need of the media to report on potential concrete climate policy consequences of frequent fossil fuel related issues that appear in the media such as the Biden decision to support drilling in Alaska. 

We believe there is a need to explain how policy issues under consideration such as approving more drilling in Alaska or support for increased use of natural gas will effect the announced US ghg  emissions reduction target in light of US GHG emissions have actually increased in the last two years, the US has consistently failed to meet its GHG emissions target, and there is widespread agreement that nations need to commit to a net zero carbon target








II, Linking proposed policies to tipping point concerns and the enormous harms already caused by elevated atmospheric CO2E concentrations

The media should also explain how Issues might affect the feared tipping points some of which are on the verge of being energized. Given that there is a growing concern that the international community needs to commit to achieve a net zero CO2e emissions no later than the next COP in the United Arab Emirates to the assure that the international community from staying within the 1. 5 C Paris Agreement Warming Limit Goal.

In discussing these  issues media should remind the public of the enormous harms to parts of the world if nations fail to take action consistent with their obligations.

An example of the confusion that can be caused if the media fails to link their reporting of developments in national approaches to climate change to the most feared climate harms  is a story appearing in the New York Times which announces numerous decisions of governments to increase development of fossil fuel resources without comment on how these decisions increase the most  feared harms that motivate restriction of fossil fuel use.


Since the Paris deal in 2015 a significant percentage of media attention on the climate crisis has been in this writer’s experience respect to whether climate change is  a natural phenomenon or human caused and issues relating to achieving the Paris Agreement’s warming limit goals of 1.5 C and 2.0 C.warming limit goal.

Yet because the growing climate caused suffering of communities around the world is being caused by elevated atmospheric CO2e levels which all countries have contributed to, the major media  focus on issues relating to achieving the Paris  Agreement warming limit goals may be  a distraction.from emissions reductions needed to prevent.harms already being experienced  such as flooding, intense storms, sea level rise, and drought, from increasing..

As we will see, limiting attention  to climate harms being caused by CO2e emissions that  raise atmospheric CO2e concentrations  has unfortunately resulted in lack of public awareness in the link between the millions of refugees predicted as early as 1987 by the Army War College and US emissions. This is so despite the fact that in  1992 UNFCCC all nations agreed that they had responsibility to ensure activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause harm to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. I believe this provision may have been largely ignored by the press because there has been no mechanism up until now under international  law to assign and allocate damages for harms that nations cause.by their CO2e emissions. Now however, the loss and damage funding mechanism that the international community agreed to negotiate this year should bring  more attention national CO2 emissions and harms that they create. Also contributing to the failure to see a connection between a nation’s CO2e emissions and harms created by them around the world are certain scientific features of climate change that are different from other  other pollution problems as we have talked about on this website several times. See: 

Seven Features of Climate Change That Citizens and the Media Need to Understand that Are Different than Other Environmental Problems  

The above  image depicts the reality that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 rise as CO2 emissions rise. The policy implication of this fact is that all CO2 emissions are making climate harms worse globally for as long as the CO2 emissions are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations.rise which is the ultimate cause ofl the climate harms the world is experiencing including the millions of refugees that the Army War College warned would create national security threats in parts of world vulnerable to climate impacts.such as drought in Syria.

III. The Policy Issues Raised by the New Loss and Damage Funding Mechanism

Last year at the Egyptian COP the international community agreed to create a fund for loss and damages from climate harms. Although the criteria for determining individual national responsibilities for loss and damages  is expected to be different from the considerations previously identified to determine a nation’s equitable share of reductions needed to achieve the Paris Agreement’s Warming Limits, there has been little press coverage of these issues.   As a result when the media announced the US support for a loss and damage mechanism, many US NGOs expressed confusion about what this was about. As an example,.a few asked me if loss and damage funding was  reparations.

The practical need for more press on  issues like this is that without greater civil society understanding of these issues, opponents of climate action will likely continue to make false claims which may get political traction. Making the matter more urgent, as the US prepares its position for the next UNFCCC  COP this fall in United Arab Emirates at a time when there is a growing consensus that all countries urgently need to commit to a net zero reduction, many US legislators at both the federal and state levels are still climate deniers.  are likely to resist federal and state proposed net zero emissions reduction targets. The media could perform a publics  service by linking legislators whose vote will probably be needed to  achieve a net zero  commitment to funding from fossil fuel interests

There has been startling confusion for the last decade in the US on what equity requires of nations in determining the nations NDC. The confusion on what constitutes equity is initially attributable to the inability to negotiate a clearer definition, a problem which would normally be expected to be resolved through negotiation before an agreement like the Paris Agreement was finalized. Yet the United States refused to negotiate a clearer definition and settled for a “pledge and review” system which allowed each country to determine a position on what equity.requres which would be the subject of comment during periodic stock takes The failure to  achieve greater public understanding of acceptable interpretations of  equity is an invitation to opponents of  climate change action to engage in disinformation about the fairness of the Paris Agreement. This is a false claim that President Trump made to justify the US withdrawal from the 2015 Agreement which was demonstratively false because the Paris Agreement allowed each nation to determine  what was fair before submitting their proposals. Furthermore many  Americans claimed the deal was unfair because it did not require China to reduce its emissions at rate equal to or greater than the United States even though there was agreement among most ethicists that a nations total emissions need to be modified by per capita or other considerations. to determine equity. More specifically IPCC explained:


.Yet there was very little US media coverage of these issues in my experience despite the importance of getting the equity step right.

Despite this clarification by IPCC, of what is a reasonable interpretation of equity in our experience few US citizens and NGOs demonstrated an understanding of this when they made recommendations on a US CO2e reduction target. This alone is strong evidence of the benefit of additional press coverage. of the meaning of equity

Some of the needed additional media coverage is required because most citizens and even  members of the media appear in our experience not to understand scientific features of climate change that are different from other environmental problems. This failure may be responsible for President Biden approving new drilling in Alaska at a time when there is a growing consensus of the urgency of nations to commit to achieve net zero emissions by the next UNFCCC COP in United Arab Emirates.


The loss and damages negotiations are very likely to trigger misinformation eventhough the Army War College noted that  developed nations providing some financial relief to vulnerable countries was in the developed nations interest to reduce the hostility that would be directed at the developed countries for their failure to prevent harms to developing countries,  No matter what happens sea level rise will  likely continue n the years ahead which will further devastate countries like  Bangladesh, parts of Indonesia, and Small Island States.among others. Dealing with refugees will require international cooperation

IV. Monitor National Interpretations and Compliance with Ethical/Legal Principals Relevant to a Nations’ Compliance with International Law.

For over 30 years opponents of climate change policies largely framed  their opposition on scientific uncertainty or excessive costs.  Yet  in adopting the 1992 Climate Treaty, nations had to grapple with several ethical/legal principles which undermined the legitimacy  of this framing. These principles included the “no harm”.” precautionary”, “equity” : and :the duty to protect ‘human rights.The media could perform a public benefit by monitoring whether these principles get traction. in future disputes about policies. These principles also undermine the scientific uncertainty and excessive cost arguments.

Why Greta Thunberg is Still An Inspirational Hope in Very Dark Times

When invited by UNESCO to Paris in 2019 to receive the Avicenna Award for my work on climate ethics, they introduced  me to 10 young people who like Greta not only spoke passionately to their governments about the injustices of the government’s position on climate change but had actually succeeded in getting their governments to change their positions. Ever since then when I am asked what gives me hope given the dire climate position the world is in, I mention the young people who are speaking out forcefully about  the injustices of their government’s climate positions.

Greta’s 2019 speech at the UN on climate change was a brilliant lesson both on the potential power of bringing attention to moral bankruptcy of arguments made by opponents of needed climate change policies, as well as a model for how to make moral and ethical arguments critical of reasons offered in opposition to needed climate policies.  Thunberg’s speech successfully demonstrated the power of moral arguments critical of claims made by opponents of climate change policies for two reasons.  First because of the  facts she relied upon to make her argument  Second on the rhetorical excellence of her speech.

See the 2019 video by tapping greta

A. The Speech’s Rhetorical Excellence

Aristotle claimed in his writing on rhetoric that speakers are effective in persuading their listeners of the injustice of they are speaking about if the speaker exhibits three qualities: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

  1. Ethos.  Speakers exhibit ethos if they convince listeners that the speaker is motivated by what is right or wrong, not by self-interest. Greta Thunberg effectively communicated by her choice of words, rhythm, and emotions that she was motivated by the moral indefenisibility of governments that have refused to do what is necessary to avoid climate harms,given the facts she stated in support of this conclusion.-
  2. Pathos. Effective speakers demonstrate some passion about the injustice that is motivating him or her.. Greta Thunberg’s display of anger was palpable and supported by the facts she relied upon.
  3. Logos. In an effective speech about injustice, the speaker’s claims and conclusions are clear and logical. The facts which motivated and supported the premise of her speech, namely that governments’ responses to climate change are morally repugnant, were clearly stated.

B. The Speech’s Foundational Facts

The facts the speech relied upon to support the claim that governments’ responses to climate change are morally indefensible were very persuasive. The speech made the following claims about governments’ inadequate response to climate change:

1, You have stolen my dreams. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.

2. The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50 % chance of staying below 1.5 degrees [Celsius], and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

3. 50 % may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.

4. “So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the consequences.

5. “To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. – the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on Jan. 1st, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons.

6. How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions? With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than 8 1/2 years.

7. “There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

She then invited listeners to reflect on the moral significance of these facts by repeating the words “How dare you” four times after stating the facts.

The facts that Greta Thunberg relied on to support her conclusion that governments’ inadequate responses to climate change are morally indefensible effectively supported this conclusion.

There are many other facts that proponents of climate change policies could also rely on to support the conclusion that governments’ inadequate responses to climate change are morally indefensible. For instance proponents of climate change policies could bring attention to the following facts which also support the conclusion that governments’ inadequate responses to climate change are morally indefensible:

  1. The staggering magnitude of percent reductions in GHG emissions needed to achieve any warming limit goal such as 1.5 C or 2.0 C become greater the longer governments wait to respond because current emissions are rapidly consuming any carbon budget that the world must live within to achieve any warming limit goal.
  2. The IPCC carbon budgets on which the quantity of reductions needed to achieve any warming limit goal have been calculated through the use of climate models which have ignored some of the positive feedbacks such as methane emissions from melting permafrost or rapid breakup of Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, both of which are already starting to happen.
  3. The percentage reductions needed to achieve any warming limit goal articulated by IPCC are for the entire world and ignore the legal, practical, and ethical obligations of developed countries to go faster than poor developed countries under the concept of “equity.”
  4.  Although skepticism in science is necessary for science to develop, sociologists have documented that fossil fuel companies have funded disinformation about climate science to undermine public confidence in the conclusions of the most prestigious scientific organizations in the world. See Why Climate Science Disinformation is So Ethically Abhorrent

This site has often commented negatively on the propensity of many proponents of climate change policies to justify climate action largely by making claims that simply counter the factual arguments of opponents of climate change such as that climate change policies are unjustified because they will impose unacceptable costs on the economy, to which most proponents of climate policies often respond  by claiming that policies will create new jobs. Such responses allow opponents of climate change to frame the problem in a way that ignores the moral problems with their arguments. Philosophers call this type of reasoning, which is reasoning exclusively based on facts that ignores ethical and justice issues “instrumental reasoning”and  sociologists have warned for several decades that economically powerful entities would accomplish their goals by tricking citizens to limit their arguments about public policy to instrumental reasons.  The mainstream media, at least in the United States, almost never brings attention when the fossil fuel industry and other opponents of climate policy make factual economic or scientific uncertainty arguments against climate policies to the strong ethical arguments that can be made in response to these claims. Nor more importantly that all of the countries in the world agreed to be bound by the  “precautionary principle” which both makes scientific uncertainty an unacceptable basis for a nation failing to abide by its legal obligations under the climate treaty.

The facts relied upon by Greta Thunberg and those above could help citizens understand the moral bankruptcy of governments’ inadequate responses to climate change. Armed with such facts and learning from Greta Thunberg’s excellent rhetorical techniques could make climate change activists more effective in getting governments to make the extraordinary urgent hard-to-imagine reductions in GHG emissions needed to prevent climate catastrophe.

Sociologists also claim that the most successful social movements are energized by a strong sense of unfairness or injustice of the status quo. For this reason, although appeals to the self-interest of citizens based upon identifying the harms from climate change that they will experience should continue, such an appeal to self-interest alone does not justify ignoring the strong moral problems with the arguments of those who oppose climate change policies. In fact, only responding to the factual scientific and economic arguments of climate change policy opponents by making counter “factual” economic and scientific claims has the ironic effect of justifying the notion that these instrumental reasons for opposing climate change policies are ethically legitimate. In addition, as we have explained in the recent website entry UNESCO Examines the Urgency of and Strategy for Getting Traction for Ethical Guidance in Climate Change Policy Formation at Bangkok Program.there is no hope of averting catastrophic climate impacts unless governments comply with their ethical obligations under the UNFCCC.

Moreover. not raising ethical problems with the arguments of those opposing climate change policies is a hugh practical mistake because most arguments made by opponents of climate policies fail to survive minimum ethical scrutiny.  That is because the world has already agreed on ethical principles which  They usually violate non-controversial, widely agreed-upon ethical principles such as human rights obligations, the “no-harm” principle of customary international law, or the “precautionary principle” expressly agreed to by all nations in the 1992 UNFCCC among many other ethical principles.We have learned that many technical experts are aware ot the policy significance of the precautionary principle which is very easy to get citizens to understand if it is explained to citizens.

For these reasons, Greta Thunberg’s UN speech should be honored and used as an inspiration by climate activists around the world while encouraging the media to cover the ethical issues raised by climate change formation controversies.


Donald A. Brown

Scholar in Residence, Sustainability Ethics and Law

Widener University Commonwealth Law School







Congressional Research Service cites climate as a contriibuting factor to the migration at the southern border.

This entry was motivated by the failure of the US media , in my experience. to acknowledge that some of the refugees arriving  at  the Texas boarder may  have been created by climate change, .a. phenomenon predicted by the  Army War College,

I  begin  by saying what I say to any group or students who I suspect may not  agree with me  on these subjects,

I am not expecting you to agree with what I say because I said it. I am trying to engage in a critical exchange. I have given students who disagreed with me an A if they engaged in critical dialogue with me.. In addition I  often learn things from people who disagree with me.

While serving as Program Manager for UN Organizations at US EPA during the  Clinton Administration, I was invited in 1997 to participate in war games being conducted by the US Army War College about parts of the world that could raise national security threats triggered by social disruption from climate change. One region the Army War College identified during these war games as being a potential source of global disruption was the drought prone regions of Syria. In 2007, a climate change induced drought began in Syria which lasted past 2010 and created 1.3 million refugees who eventually destabilized large parts of Europe.

The entry  will use the term “refugees” to apply to all climate induced displaced persons although under international law the term “refugee” does not connote all displaced persons, but only those who flee their nation because of fear of persecution or violence.  A “refugee” is defined as a person who has crossed an international border “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” (1951 Convention 0n the Status of Refugees: Article, 1). In some contexts, the definition extends to persons fleeing “events seriously disturbing public order.”  All climate change refugees are not covered by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which protects people who have a well-founded fear of persecution on racial, religious or other grounds. Therefore, all people displaced by climate change impacts can’t apply to be treated as a refugee by countries they approach, under current law. This is a problem  that needs to be addressed as part of the solution to this threat. In fact we will argue that the climate/refugee problem is another threat that cant be solved at the national level alone.

One region the Army War College also identified during these 1997 war games  I. attended as being a potential source of global disruption was the drought prone regions of Syria. In 2007, a climate change induced drought began in Syria which lasted past 2010 and created 1.3 million refugees who eventually destabilized large parts of Europe.

The Army War College also during this time identified three countries in central America, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador as vulnerable to climate change induced destabilization particularly from agricultural areas which were at risk from drought, The Army War College said during that time that drought may not have always created the refugees in this area, but  drought might prevent refugees fleeing social and environmental conditions in other areas form staying there as they otherwise might have..












Climate change impacts have created and will continue to adversely affect refugees around the world. These harms include sea level rise, glacial melting, changes in precipitation which causes flooding, drought, which results  in loss of drinking water, famine caused by drought, storm damage from extreme weather events, unbearable heat waves, wildfires, increases in the intensity of tropical storms, increases in degradation of ecological systems including plants and animals on which people and animals depend, the melting of ice masses which affect water supplies, and the degradation of carbon sinks including forests. plants, and the acidification of oceans.

 In 2008, the Army War College also a published a 466 page report which extensively described parts of the world that might create national security threats for the world due to their vulnerability to climate change impacts and their potential to cause conflict.  (Pumphrey, 2008).

As global temperatures continue to rise, hundreds of millions of people could struggle with floods, deadly heat waves, and water scarcity from severe drought, the Army War College report said.  Crop failures could become more widespread, putting families in places like Africa and Asia at far greater risk of hunger and malnutrition. People unable to adapt to the enormous environmental shifts will end up suffering unavoidable loss or be forced to flee their homes, creating massive dislocation on a global scale.

We begin with acknowledging the enormity of the challenge of refugees on the Texas border even before considering the role that climate change will play in increasing the number of refugees.US

The number of refugees on the Southern border continues to increase


The increasing number of refugees on the Texas Border come from numerous countries around the world that are too far away to expect Americans to know the forces which contributed to them becoming refugees. All of this makes knowing what role climate change had in producing refugees more difficult.

For months I have been perplexed given the enormous media and political attention to the refugees on the US Texas Border why there has been no media discussion discernible to me about the role of climate change.in creating some refugees. The answer I have gotten from several respected media associates was they could not distinguish how many refugees on the US Southern Border were fleeing from social turmoil and violence and those fleeing due to climate impacts.  I asked a  member of the Army War College who i discovered was working on these issues and she referred me to a conclusion on this issue by the Congressional Research Service which concluded as follows:And so climate change is a factor affecting  refugees on the southern US border.

For some refugees that are created by climate impacts, the connection is obvious.

Sea Level Bangladesh

Male, Maldives

Places like Bangladesh and Male in Maldives are obviously vulnerable to climate induced sea level rise particularly given that the minimum sea level rise predicted by NOAA is 2 feet by 2100 and  far  greater predictions are becoming more frequent. Rising seas already have created a refugee crisis in some small island states including  Kiribati where an inhabitant who had to leave storm surges petitioned the New Zealand government tor refugee status which was deniied.

The US climate media contains frequent references to reports of more dire predictions of future sea level rise. Both Greenland and Antarctica are now viewed being to beyond the point of no return, meaning if is too late to prevent eventual total meltdown. This means eventual sea level rise of  186 of feet of sea level rise at minimum not to include increasing temperatures that are guaranteed as reflective surfaces diminish in  a warming world.



All of this means if a politician is concerned about refugees on the Texas border he or she should support policies to reduce CO2 emissions to net zero ASAP.

I also attribute  the reluctance of politicians to make the connection between  refugees and climate change is due to the fact that many academics and NGOs, I have found ,often don’t  know how climate change is radically different from other environmental problems they have experience with.  

These features include CO2 emissions mix well  in atmosphere and are long lasting with about 80% being removed by carbon sinks in about 200 years.  Yet some stay in the atmosphere for tens of thousands of years potentially contributing to climate change harms for a very long time.

The following image depicts the reality that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 rise as CO2 emissions rise. The policy implication of this fact is that all CO2 emissions are making climate harms  worse globally for as long as the CO2 emissions are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Notice as CO2 emissions around the world rise, atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise globally thereby potentially affecting climate harms worldwide potentially for a very long time. This feature makes common assessment tools used to judge the acceptability of projects such as cost-benefit analysis or risk assessments, ineffective, or misleading to determine the acceptability of projects.

I and my coeditor Katherine Gwiazdon working with 19 authors from around the world produced 40 chapters on ethical issues raised by climate policy just submitted to our publisher Routledge a Handbook on Applied Policy,  Eventhough the authors were experts in their field, several initially got the ethical issues wrong because they ddin’t understand that climate change has scientific features that need to be understood to effectively evaluate policy..

The policy reason for identifying the ethical issues that arise in  climate policy is if nations make decisions primarily on the basis of economic self-interest. such decision will likely harm other nations and people

Anyone who would like to obtain a copy of this Handbook contact me at DABrown57@gmaiill,com and i will make more info about the book and how to order it in the near future

Because the atmospheric CO2e concentration effects almost all countries, if a nation  does not reduce its emissions to its fair share global emissions necessary to prevent harm they will very likely harm other nations.  Yet I have rarely have heard US citizens acknowledge the potential harm we are doing to other countries if our GHG emissions reduction target is inadequate. I believe that many citizens and environmental professionals err on their policy recommendations sometimes because they assume that climate change is like other domestic environmental problems they have experience with. In air pollution if policies extinguish the air pollution plume that is causing the harm the harm is usually adequately dealt with but If  CO2 emissions are reduced to zero,. elevated atmospheric concentration remain.which continue to create warming impacts which reduce the albedo or reflective properties of  snow or ice which adds to the warming   Because additional warming may be enough to trigger tipping points which speed up warming to potentially out of control accelerating warming, a strong case can be made the world needs to achieve net zero CO2e emissions ASAP.

In any event, to prevent warming from creating additional refugees the world needs to move to net zero carbon emissions. ASAP..

While serving as Program Manager for United Nations in EPA Office of International Activities under the Clinton administration., I was asked in  i997 by the US State Department to co-chair for the US with a colleague from the energy department a negotiation taking place in the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.  This negotiation was asking nations to agree that the “balance of the evidence suggests a discernible human influence on climate.” At the conclusion of these negotiations in 1997 every country in the world that was seated in the UN CSD at that time, which was approximately 160 countries, agreed with this statement including Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries.  This statement had already been agreed to by all nation’s IPCC scientists in 1995. These countries included nations that had historically sometimes opposed international action on climate change including United States and OPEC countries such as Saudi Arabia. The IPCC has increased its confidence in human causation in every subsequent report along with all academies of sciences.

The reason for the universal international agreement among nations that humans are responsible for the climate change the world is experiencing is that the evidence of human causation is extraordinarily compelling despite the fact that the Earth has experienced warming and cooling cycles during Earth’s history in responses to natural forces. The confidence of human causation is very high because among other evidence  (1) scientists can predict how the Earth will warm up differently if a layer of GHGs approximate about 12 miles into the atmosphere warms the Earth compared to how the planet warms if the natural forces that have caused warming in the Earth’s historical heating and cooling cycles.  These differences along are with several lines of evidence relevant to the role of GHG in warming are referred to as “human fingerprints.”    Scientists have also compared the temperature forcing of human GHGs to forcing of the natural causes of climate variations in “attribution studies,” and have concluded that only the forcing from human sources can explain the recent rise in global temperatures. undefined


The above chart compares the warming expected from human
activities in red, to the warming expected by natural forcing in blue, to the actual observed warming in black. This comparison is very strong evidence for attributing recent warming to human causation.

My experience in teaching in 36 countries and negotiating climate issues for the US at the UN if one respectfully walks students or government officials through this information they are almost always convinced of human causation  I use here the fingerprint and attribution evidence because I have found it more compelling than more abstract modelling information that is otfen used.to explain human causation

Since I  am on record for critically examining US climate policy through an ethical lens, as well as with colleagues 14 countries with  significant  fossil fuel interests, (Brown, Taylor, 2014) I  was surprised when the G. W. Bush State Department  invited me to make a presentation on climate ethics to the Scottish legislature as they were debating a national GHG emissions target. When I arrived at the new Parliament Building in Edinburgh, the debate was already underway with a parliamentarian arguing that Scotland should set a tough target because Scotland owed it to the rest of the world.

Shortly thereafter Scotland set a target of net zero ghg emissions by 2045

This was an argument I have never heard in the US.   Yet an argument which was ethically and legally required by the “no harm” rule which all countries agreed to in the Preamble of the 1992 UN Climate Convention. (UNFCCC, 1992, Preamble)

.I believe many US citizens largely ignored the no harm rule because there was no way of adjudicating damages under international law,  Yet that is no longer the case because the international community at the recent COP 27 meeting in Egypt has agreed to create a Loss and Damages mechanism   See UNEP 2022 for an explanation of the loss and damages mechanism. The details of the loss and damages mechanism will not be finalized at the earliest until the conclusion of the of COP 28.in United Arab Emirates which ends in December 2023. Although this fund is sure to be controversial, as lies and untruthful claims about it are already circulatinghe Army War College report suggests it is in the US interest to  provide some financial remuneration to those harmed by forces that create refugees

The esteemed political theorists Hannah Arendt claimed that lying was always part of politics. often on both sides of an issue,  Furthermore, anyone whose power is threatened would lie.. Also people on the same side of the issue will often pass the lie on without critical thought.

And given the ignorance about this  I suspect the challenge will be to get citizens to understand the truth

The United States has for several decades has needed  to commit  to achieve a net is  zero target to do what is required of it under the Paris Agreement warming limit goals. It also required o not contribute to increases in the atmospheric CO2 concentrations which are causing the numerous climate impacts we are already experiencing. Instead the US emissions rose in the last two years,1.3 % in 2022 and 6.5 % in 2021, Scientific America, 2023,

The PBS Frontline Series on the Power of Big Oil  includes descriptions of Oil Company lobbying successfully undermining several presidential efforts to set a US GHG target at zero.

Also all nations needed to achieve net zero missions to maintain hope of preventing further degradation of tipping points. Although these issues have rarely been part of the dialogue visible in the US media in my experience other than in the most superficial way.

Now however there is a growing awareness, it seems to me, that all nations need to agree to a net zero GHG target by the next COP in United Arab Emiiates if there is any chance of preventing catastroph

Some hope is that a growing number of nations have agreed to net zero and a half dozen or so have committed to a legal duty to achieve these targets .I strongly recommend that nations combine a net zero target with making the target legally enforceable because  there are many examples around the world where a  nation has adopted a method to achieve a target which is not achieved in time.

The Race to Net Zero
The barrier to the US adopting such a net zero target is likely to be that there are still many deniers of human of climate change in the US Congress.  According to the Center For American Progress there were 139  members of Congress who are  still deniers of the human causation of climate change in the most recent US Congress
I attribute this to the success of the notorious climate change disinformation campaign which I  have written about extensively. on this website, See, Why Exxon’s and Other Fossil Fuel Companies’ Funding of the Climate Change Disinformation Campaign Cannot be Excused As an Exercise in Free Speech but Must be Understood as Morally Reprehensible Disinformation.
I was recently asked by UNESCO to comment at the recent Egyptian UNFCCC COP why ethical rules that nations agreed would guide their climate policies did not get traction
The rules were the precautionary principle, equity, no harm, and human rights law. As I reviewed my experience with governments on these issues. I concluded the disinformation campaign worked.to the extent that most of the legislators are still climate deniers.
I am constantly stunned by how many people who seem to be well educated dont seem to know there is a consensus among governments world-wide that climate change is human caused. The problem in the US is that the fossil fuel funded disinformation campaign has worked to undermine citizens support for aggressive climate change reductions though well funded claims that climate change is  a hoax.
The US media coverage of issues although more frequently covering  the most horrific expectations of climate frequenr impacts as we should expect but is not covering a host of issues about policy that people need to understand to critically evaluate lies of the disinformation campaign.  The media understandably calls on experts in science and economics to respond to the  scientific and excessive cost issues framed by the opponents of climate policies. Unfortunately technical experts often don’t know some of the issues that need to be responded to such as what does “equity”: require or what does the precautionary principle require if one cant establish quantitative risk by standard measurement methods,  or why did IPCC seem to underestimate when when some tipping points would tip.
Every environmental lawyer knows that governments frequently encounter serious threats for which the government cant establish a quantitative risk because the complexity of the problem or not enough time to do the testing required. One example to establish the dose level for certain toxic substances that  would create one  in a million risk of cancer, a goal had been established law, it would require that  a million rats to be tested. For this reason law in Pennsylvania required that the government’s environmental  standards not be arbitrary and capricious after the government responds to comments. The EU has adopted the precautionary principle as a standard practice but American scientists are frequently  often not aware of this nor that the precautionary agreed to in the 1992 climate treaty  not only prohibits nations from using uncertainty as an excuse for complying with its obligations but  requires governments to use precautionary science if riisk cant be determined by normal experienced based deduction of risks.
Although there are 20 US governments who are suing the fossil fuel industry for the climate change disinformation campaign for damages.(Frontline), I believe we should seek money for a massive public campaign to educate citizens that the there is an international consensus among governments  since 1997 including the OPEC countries that climate change is human caused that  has existed since1997. All countries agreed to be bound by the precautionary principle in the 1992 climate treaty because it easy to defend but unfortunately many scientists are not aware of it.   Most 
climate scientists are not aware that who should have the burden of proof and what quantity of proof should satisfy the burden of proof is not a value neutral scientific question but an ethical issue.
Most environmental scientists in my experience are aware that the degree of proof established by most scientific disciplines to establish causation usually based on 95 % is designed to prevent false  positives but are not aware that ethically there is widespread agreement that this is not appropriate for very dangerous threats.

UNEP, 2022. What you need to know about the COP27 Loss and Damage Fund



Why Rules Nations Agreed Would Guide Their Responses to Climate Change Have Not Gotten Traction. The US Has Ignored Adam Smith’s Warning That Some Merchants Will Ruthlessly Scheme Against the Public Interest

In June 1992, 154 nations agreed to  the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Like all international treaty agreements, before an international treaty is finalized, nations must grapple with numerous treaty principles that are developed through negotiation to deal with issues that will  likely arise in a treaty’s application to policy.  Since the 1992 climate treaty was enacted, opponents of government action on climate change have largely framed their opposition to government climate policies on the basis of scientific uncertainty about GHG caused warming and excessive cost of implementing the treaty.  Key ethical principles that were enacted in the 1992 UNFCCC relevant to the uncertainty and excessive cost arguments included the “precautionary principle,” the “no harm” principle, and under the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement nations base their GHG emissions reduction targets on “equity.” Another rule which has been agreed to by most governments which undermines the excessive cost arguments are government duties to protect human rights.

At the recently concluded Egyptian COP27, UNESCO invited speakers including myself to reflect on ethical issues that will arise in any government’s consideration of geoengineering as a solution to climate change. This program also considered why ethical principles that have been agreed to under international law have not gotten traction in national implementation of the climate treaty.

This entry is a summary of my explanation of why ethical principles which have  been agreed upon to guide national responses to climate action have not gotten traction in national responses to climate charge including the United States.

Because entities whose economic interests are threatened by implementation of a treaty created to protect civil society from threats that cant be adequately dealt with at the local level often resist compliance with ethical/l principles adopted by the international community, UNESCO has expressed interest in getting traction for ethics in international efforts to create and implement treaties to protect civil society from threats that cant be solved at the national level. My conclusions about why ethics did not get traction are largely based upon my experience inside the US federal and Pennsylvania state governments as these governments struggled to adopt policies to reduce GHG emissions.

The consensus scientific view of climate change is usually understood to be that initially articulated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (About IPCC 2021). IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Program to enable governments to assess the scientific, technical, and socio-economic information relevant to climate change, its potential impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation (IPCC 2010). The IPCC does not do original research but synthesizes and summarizes the extant peer-reviewed climate science to make recommendations to governments and policymakers about needed climate policies, (IPCC 2010a).

Any government who is a member of WHO or UNEP may be a member of the IPCC with current membership at hundred 195 countries. (About IPCC 2021) Therefore countries who have sometimes opposed international action on climate change on scientific grounds, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, for instance , have the same power as governments that have traditionally strongly supported  national action on climate change such as most of the governments in the European Union and many of the nations most vulnerable to climate impacts such as sea lea level rise or flooding such as small island developing states already being threatened by sea level rise.

This entry explains why ethical principles that all nations who are signatories to the 1992 Climate treaty agreed would guide their response to national climate policies have not gotten traction in national responses to climate change. I have encouraged UNESCO to continue to consult with others on this important question.

In addition to the ethical issues discussed in this paper, a new Routledge Handbook on Applied Climate Ethics which is being edited by myself and Katherine Kintzel Gwiazdon, Executive Director of the Center for Ethics and Law, has identified 40 ethical issues that arise in climate change policy formation. We believe it is important to help citizens understand that these issues raise ethical questions and therefore can’t be effectively dealt with by only debating  about facts. This is so because if nations take positions on these issues based only on their self-interest they will likely harm others.

Anyone interested in getting a copy of the Handbook, please so indicate in your response to this article.

Adam Smith who convinced civil society of the value of free markets also warned civil society that merchants would sometimes ruthlessly scheme against the public interest. The central purpose of the fossil fuel funded disinformation campaign was to undermine civil society’s faith in mainstream climate science. 

Most Americans including myself until recently did not know that Adam Smith who has been widely celebrated for convincing civil society of the benefits from the invisible hand of free markets also warned that merchants would sometimes ruthlessly scheme against the public interest. See,   Adam Smith and the Conspiracy of the Merchants – Research Portal, King’s College, London (kcl.ac.uk) 

Given that the IPCC’s assessment reports must be unanimously approved by the member countries including countries who have for most of the history of international climate change negotiations have opposed strong international responses to climate change, one can conclude that there has been a broad consensus about the IPCC’s scientific conclusions among nations of the world.

When the founding  nations of 1992 climate treaty agreed to the climate treaty,  anticipating some climate science issues would  remain somewhat uncertain at least initially, all nations unanimously agreed to the inclusion of the “precautionary principle.” This principle not only prohibits nations from using scientific uncertainty as an excuse for failing to comply with their obligations under  the climate treaty, it requires governments to use precautionary science to describe dangerous risks that cant be described quantitatively for practical reasons.

While serving as Program Manager for United Nations organizations in the EPA in 1997 under the Clinton administration, I was asked by the US State Department to co-chair  with a colleague  from the energy department a negotiation taking place in the UN Commission on Sustainable Development which was considering whether nations would agree that the “balance of the evidence suggests a discernible human cause of climate change.” At the conclusion of these negotiations in 1997 every country in the world that was seated in the UN CSD at that time which was approximately 160 countries, agreed with this statement including Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries.  This statement had already been agreed to by all nation’s IPCC scientists in 1995. These countries included nations that had historically sometimes opposed international action on climate change including United States and OPEC countries such as Saudi Arabia. This statement was consistently strengthened over the next 15 years in IPCC meetings so that in 2013 all nations who were members of IPCC agreed with the conclusion that: “Human emitted GHG are extremely-likely, at least a 95% chance, responsible for than half of the Earth’s temperature increase since 1953. Yet   many US politicians at the federal and state level continued to claim that human induced climate change was a hoax.

ipcc_version_confidence (1)

Counterpoints, 2020


This chart depicts that IPCC’s conclusions about human causation of climate change increased in confidence in every report over the 25 years with the last report claiming that human cause of climate change was virtually certain, meaning at least a 95% probability.

The reason for the universal international agreement among nations that humans are responsible for the climate change the world is experiencing is that the evidence of human causation is extraordinarily compelling despite the fact that the Earth has experienced warming and cooling cycles during Earth’s history in responses to natural forces. The confidence of human causation is very high because scientists:

(1) can predict how the Earth will warm up differently if a layer of GHGs in the atmosphere warms the Earth compared to how the planet warms if the natural forces that have caused warming in the Earth’s historical heating and cooling cycles, these differences are referred to as “human fingerprints;”

(2) have compared the temperature forcing of human GHGs to forcing of the natural causes of climate variations in “attribution studies,” and have concluded that only the forcing from human sources can explain the recent rise in global temperatures;

(3) have known precisely since the mid-1880s the amount of forcing a molecule of CO2  generates in watts per square meter;

(4) have known that the CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere is from fossil fuel combustion because of its chemical isotope.

(5} determined that the CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere is directly proportional to the timing and amount of fossil fuel combustion around the world;

(6) tested these lines of evidence rigorously in computer model experiments since the 1960s,

(7) these models have not only accurately predicted future warming, they have been run backward and accurately described past temperature regimes .

The way the upper and lower atmosphere heats up is one of ten lines of evidence referred to as a “ fingerprint” that support human causation of experienced warming. For instance, if a layer of GHGs is causing the observed warming, the lower atmosphere warms as the upper atmosphere cools. If variations in the sun’s energy reaching Earth are causing the warming, the upper and lower atmosphere warm at a similar rate. These and other human fingerprints have been tested and these tests have concluded that atmospheric GHG from human activities are causing the warming.

{Simple Climate 2011)

The global confidence in human causation of warming is derived not only from the fingerprint evidence but also scientific tests designed to compare whether the warming being experienced on Earth can be attributed to those natural forces which are known to have driven historical changes in climate such as regular changes in the sun’s energy reaching the Earth. This kind of study is called an “attribution” study. The above chart compares the warming expected from human activities in red, to the warming expected by natural forcing in blue, to the actual observed warming in black. Thus, this comparison is very strong evidence for attributing recent warming to human caused forcing.

The scientific confidence in the consensus view of climate change is also extraordinary strong because, in 1988, the World Health Organization and the UN Environment Program created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) whose mission is to synthesize the peer-reviewed climate science and socio-economic literature on climate change and make recommendations to the international community. Approximately every five years, starting in 1990, thousands of scientists, most of whom have been recommended by member governments for their scientific expertise, produce comprehensive three volume IPCC  reports. The IPCC does not do research, it synthesizes the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

IPCC has issued  Reports every year since 1990. The reports are produced in three different working groups. WGI synthesizes the physical climate science literature. WGII synthesizes the science on climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, and WGIII focuses on mitigation. This writer was a contributing author to a new IPCC Chapter in Working Group III in the IPCC 5th assessment on ethics and sustainability and for the 6th Assessment Report Working Group II.

In “The Denial Countermovement”  sociologists Riley Dunlap and Araon McCright describe how some fossil fuel companies, corporations that depend on fossil fuel, business organizations, and free-market fundamentalist foundations have successfully prevented government action on climate change by funding the climate change disinformation campaign which they explain sought to undermine the public’s confidence in mainstream climate science (Dunlap, R., & McCright, A., 2015. p. 300).

This website has described the morally reprehensible nature of the climate change disinformation campaign originally documented by sociologists. See, D. Brown, Is climate science disinformation a crime against humanity? | Donald Brown | The Guardian. 

Despite the  current almost universal agreement among nations that climate change is human-caused and very dangerous, many US politicians frequently have and continue to argue that human-induced climate change is a hoax. As of March of 2021, there were 139 elected officials in the United States Congress who deny the scientific consensus on human caused climate change. (CAP, 2021). These members received more than $61 million in lifetime contributions from the coil,, oil, and gas industries.  (CAP, 2021) And so many US federal legislators who have taken a skeptical position on climate change have received money from fossil fuel interests. 

While working for the Clinton administration, i had an opportunity to witness how the fossil fuel industry frustrated the efforts of a US administration that sought to reduce US ghg emissions. An example, while I was working as the US  Program Manager to UN Organizations during the Clinton administration while the US was considering ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, during this time, the Global Climate Coalition, an international lobbying group of businesses who opposed action to reduce GHG emissions was waging an intense national campaign in opposition to the US ratification of the Kyoto Deal.

Also while Kyoto deal was in its final stages Senators Robert Byrd and Chuck Hagel were moving a petition through the US Senate which stated that the US should not sign an agreement that included new US commitments that mandated new US commitments unless developing country parties agreed to new commitments within the same time frame. The Byrd-Hegel passed the US Senate unanimously on in July 1997,  95 to nothing. Although the Clinton administration signed the Kyoto Deal in November 1998, the success of the Byrd-Hegel petition made it obvious that any attempt to ratify it would be futile. 

The perceived  alleged unfairness of the Kyoto Protocol is one of many examples of the need to get traction for the accepted definition of “equity,” a term which nations agreed would guide a nation’s determination of its fair share of global emissions reductions needed to achieve global reduction needed to achieve legally required reductions.  On the meaning of “equity”   IPCC said;

There is a basic set of shared ethical premises and precedents that apply to the climate problem that can help put bounds on plausible interpretations of “equity” In the burden sharing context.      Even in the absence of a formal globally agreed burden sharing such are important in expectations of what may be reasonably required of different actors. (IPCC, 2014, ARR5, pg 317)

IPCC went on to say that:

In these equity principles can be understood to comprise four key dimensions: responsibility, capacity, equality and the right to sustainable development (IPCC, 2014, AR5, WG3, CH 4, pg 317)

Notice total emissions in tons alone is not an acceptable criteria for determining equity. The failure to get some traction for the IPCC definition of “equity” has predictably been an invitation to opponents of climate change policies to scheme against the public interest.  For interest, President Trump justified his US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on the basis it was unfair to the US. Yet the Paris Agreement allowed nations to determine what equity required of them.   Also predictably those opposed to climate change policies frequently opposed proposed US targets on the basis that China had not adopted a target of the same  or greater magnitude claiming that China is a larger in terms of tons.  These opponents of US emissions targets appeared to be unaware that the US historical emissions and per capita emissions are greater than China’s and per capita and historical emissions are recognized under the IPCC as valid considerations for determining equity making the US under the concept of equity more responsible for percentage reductions than China,


State and subnational governments

In the United States, state governments control a significant amount of the nation’s GHG emissions. The following chart depicts that 10 US States are responsible for half US ghg emissions.

Ecosystem Marketplace

Each level of government controls some activities that produce ghg emissions that other levels don’t control. For instance, US states exercise control over some aspects of land use, some forms of public transportation, building codes, and electric power generation that the federal government doesn’t control. Thus,  there is a need for all levels of government to adopt climate policies if a national government is going to achieve its ghg reduction obligations.

In this author’s experience  most US residents of subnational governments are rarely  aware that emissions from the subnational government are contributing to raising atmospheric GHG concentrations globally and therefore by their failure to reduce the GHG emissions from the subnational government to zero, they are contributing to harms around the world such as those that are causing refugees.

This author served for a few years as lead staff responsibility on climate issues in the Office of Chief Council for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources Pa DER after he returned to PA DER from EPA in June of 1998.

Shortly after I returned the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection I briefed the DEP Secretary that the science of climate change was very strong and the world needed all levels of governments including states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The secretary, authorized me and a deputy secretary to begin a conversation with fossil fuel interests to get their ideas about how we might proceed. Several weeks later we met with a representative of the coal industry who brought a representative of the coal miners union. As we explained that we would like to begin a conversation with fossil fuel interests on what the state could productively do to reduce PA GHG emissions, we didnt get far into the conversation when the representative of the coal industry said don’t you dare begin this. This is none of your business. This meeting took place on a Thursday and when I returned to the office on Monday I was informed by Deputy Sec. that the state had been notified that the coal industry had activated members of the Pennsylvania Senate Coal Caucus who promised that if DER even began the a process to lower Pa GHG emissions, the PA senators would seek to cut the DEP budget. And so I was told the plan to organize a conference had been postponed indefinitely.

One of my initial assignments for Pa DER on climate change was to monitor a cap and trade program that was under development among ten northeastern states. This state regional climate change program was referred to as the regional greenhouse gas inventory or RGGI. The states began RGGI negotiations in 2003 at the prompting of the New York governor George Pataki. After attending several RGGI negotiations and reporting back to PA DER management, it became clear that there was no appetite at that time in Pennsylvania for a greenhouse gas cap and trade program because it was explained to me by state officials that “Pennsylvania was a coal state.”  Although Pennsylvania finally joined RGGI in April of 2022, it  is still an open question whether regulations that Pennsylvania will need to implement RGGI and achieve GHG emissions reduction goals recently announced by Governor Wolf will survive the regulatory process which provides numerous opportunities for the fossil fuel industry to  block regulations. In addition, the almost 20 year delay in reducing Pa GHG emissions has made the problem worse for reasons that those who don’t understand certain features of climate change  that make it different than other domestic environmental problems wont initially understand. See,

Seven Features of Climate Change That Citizens and the Media Need to Understand To Critically Evaluate a Government’s Response to This Existential Threat and the Arguments of Opponents of Climate Policies.

During hearings in the Pennsylvania legislature over the next decade on potential state legislation that would reduce Pa GHG emissions, hearings were increasingly dominated by testimony of climate skeptics who sometimes spread odious disinformation. See D. Brown 2019, Climate Change Disinformation Comes to Pennsylvania.

Making matters worse because most of hearings were in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives run by a legislator who was a very vocal climate change skeptic the hearings were not a forum for serious considerations of the merits of both sides of the issues in contention. And the legislative hearings that  I attended there was no considerations of the immense harms from Pennsylvania GHG emissions to the rest of the world nor serious counter arguments to the skeptics claims challenging the scientific consensus position articulated by IPCC.   This phenomenon is evidence that the climate change disinformation campaign has worked among a large percentage of US citizens and legislators. One extraordinary example of this is the failure to consider why the consensus view that has been adopted by all IPCC nations in regard to warming caused by human activities has failed to take hold. This is evidence that the odious climate change disinformation campaign achieved some of its goals.

ended my presentation to the UNESCO Egyptian event, with the claim that the failure to get traction for the ethical rules that nations agreed would guide the government’s response to climate change was because the fossil fuel disinformation campaign has largely worked. The ruthless scheming of the fossil fuel funded disinformation campaign was the major reason why some governments have been failing to reduce GHG emissions as required by law and ethical principles.

Although this is particularly a problem in the US, research that I and several colleagues from Australia an New Zealand working  with colleagues from around the world examined policies in 14 countries concluded that this is a problem in some other countries and in some of  these countries the disinformation campaign tactics originally  developed in the US were used to weaken the nation’s responses to climate change. (Brown, Taylor, eds, 2015, Ethics and Climate Change, A Study of National Commitments, IUCN))

Because I was on record for strongly critically examining US climate policy through an ethical lens, I was surprised when the G. W. Bush State Department in 2009 invited me to make a presentation on climate ethics to the Scottish legislature as they were debating a national GHG emissions target.

When I arrived at the Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh, the debate was already underway with one parliamentarian arguing that Scotland should set a tough target because Scotland owed it to the rest of the world. This was an argument I never heard in the US but an argument which I believed was ethically required and practically needed. It is also required by the “no harm” principle which all countries agreed to in the Preamble of the 1992  Climate Convention. (UNFCCC, 1992, Preamble)

Shortly thereafter Scotland set a target of net zero GHG emissions by 2045.

Donald A. Brown



Brown. D., Taylor P. eds.  2015, ,Ethics and Climate Change, A Study of National Commitments, IUCN

(COP 2021 ) Center for American Progress, Climate Deniers in Congress.center for 117

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