Introduction to Climate Ethics, Video- Part Two


Why is it practically important to identify the ethical questions that need to be faced in making climate change policy? A new video, 14 minutes long, is the second in a two part introduction on the basics of climate change ethics that answers this question. Part two identifies a number of specific civilization challenging ethical issues, looks at these issues briefly, and makes the case for the urgent practical need to turn up the volume on the ethical dimensions of these issues. Part one in this series explained why climate change must be understood essentially as an ethical problem and why this understanding has profound practical consequences foe policy. Par one is found on this web site and is 11 minutes long. This second part takes up the issues introduced in part one in the context of several specific climate change ethical issues.


Donald A. Brown

Scholar in Residence, Sustainability Ethics and Law

Widener University School of Law


Introduction To The Ethics of Climate Change -Video Part One

Video will be publishing videos that explain basic climate change ethical issues starting with this post.

This first video is about 14 minutes long and  introduces basic climate change ethics issues, explains why climate change must be understood as a civilization challenging ethical question, identifies some important practical consequences of framing climate issues as ethical questions, and introduces very briefly a few of the many civilization challenging ethical questions raised by climate change.

Part 2 in this series will introduce specific ethical issues entailed by climate change


Donald A. Brown, Scholar In Residence, Sustainability Ethics and Law, Widener University School of Law


Why Climate Change Must Be Seen Essentially An Ethical Problem and What Practical Differences Follow From This.

The great importance and urgency of examining the ethical dimensions of climate change becomes obvious upon the realization that: (a) human-induced warming creates many civilization challenging ethical questions, (b) this understanding has enormous practical significance for climate change policy options including the fact that no nation or entity may justify its response to climate change on the basis of self-interest alone,  (c) a thirty-year debate about climate change policies that began in the early 1980s has been framed almost exclusively by scientific and economic arguments that have largely ignored the ethical questions, (d) an urgently needed global solution to climate change to climate change is not likely to arise and be accepted unless it is just, and (e) millions of the world’s poorest people are most likely to experience the harshest climate change impacts, and (f) there is a growing consensus among most mainstream scientists that the world is running out of time to prevent very dangerous climate change.

It should be obvious upon initial reflection that climate change is a civilization challenging ethical problem because: (a) it is some high emitting nations and individuals in some parts of the world who are putting other often very poor people in other parts of the world at great risk, (b) the potential  harms to the most vulnerable are not mere inconveniences but catastrophic threats to life and natural resources on which life depends, and (c) because of the global scope of the problem, the victims cannot petition their governments to protect them-their best hope is that high emitters of greenhouse gases will respond to their ethical responsibilities to greatly reduce their emissions.

Although is should be obvious that climate change is a civilization ethical problem, it has not been debated as such. In a new book to published in October, this author reviews a thirty-year climate change debate in the United States. (Brown, 2012) This historical analysis reveals that, for the most part, the three decade old US  climate debate has been exclusively about scientific and economic issues that have both ignored and hidden important ethical questions. The press and even some of the NGOs participating in the debate that have supported action on climate have completely ignored the ethical issues that should have been seen by the nature of the issues being debated and if acknowledged would have transformed how the debate was structured.

The deeper the understanding of the scientific issues raised by climate change such as what amount of warming will likely trigger catastrophic climate changes, the more obvious it becomes that climate change is a moral issue. In other words, scientific sophistication about climate change deepens one’s understanding of the ethical dimensions of climate change.

A new article by Bill McKibben is a must read in this regard for US citizens who are working to turn up the volume on the ethical dimensions of climate change. It is: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math: Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – and that make clear who the real enemy is

This article will greatly enhance both any reader’s sense of the urgency of the need to respond to climate change and their  understanding of why global warming must be understood  essentially as an ethical problem. This article also points to a deeper ethical condemnation of the forces opposing climate change policies, a matter recently discussed in several prior posts on under the category of “climate change disinformation” and “crime against humanity.”


Brown, D. (2012) Navigating the Perfect Moral Storm, Climate Ethics, forthcoming October 2012, Routledge, EarthScan.


Donald A. Brown,

Scholar In Residence, Sustainability Ethics and Law, Widener University School of Law.


Ethical Analysis of the Climate Change Disinformation Campaign: Introduction to A Series.

I. Introduction to The Series:

Over the next few weeks, ClimateEthics will take a deeper look at what has been referred to as the “climate change disinformation campaign” through an ethical lens

This series is based upon the assumption that skepticism in science is essential to increase understanding of the natural world. Yet, ideologically based disinformation is often ethically abhorrent particularly in regard to behaviors about which there is credible scientific support for the conclusion that these activities threaten life and the ecological systems on which life depend. This report focuses on specific tactics that have been deployed in the climate change disinformation campaign. It is not a critique of responsible skepticism.

Although ClimateEthics has examined these issues briefly before, see: An Ethical Analysis of the Climate Change Disinformation Campaign: Is This A New Kind of Assault on Humanity?, this is the first in a series of posts that will examine this phenomenon in depth.

The climate disinformation campaign can be understood as a movement of organizations and individuals that can be counted on to systematically attack mainstream climate change science in ways that radically depart from responsible scientific skepticism. In the next entry in this series we will look more closely at what we mean by a “campaign” or “movement.”

Later entries in this series will look in more detail at specific tactics used by the disinformation movement. Because skepticism in science should be encouraged rather than vilified, the last entry in this series will make recommendations about norms that should guide responsible skepticism in climate science.

The tactics that will be examined in this series include:
• Lying Or Reckless Disregard For the Truth
• Focusing On Unknowns While Ignoring The Knowns.
• Specious Claims Of “Bad” Science
• Creation of Front Groups
• Manufacturing Bogus Climate Science
• Think Tank Campaigns
• Misleading PR Campaigns.
• Creation of Astroturf Groups
• Cyber-bullying Scientists and Journalists

The series will demonstrate that the controversy over climate change science that has unfolded in the last twenty years is a strong example of the urgent need to create new societal norms about how to deal with scientific uncertainty for human problems about which there is a justifiable scientific basis for great concern about potential impacts but uncertainty about the magnitude and timing of these impacts.

The philosopher Hans Jonas argued that scientific uncertainty about the consequences of technologies that have great potential for good and harm create new, profound ethical challenges for the human race. (Jonas, 1979). This is so because although humans are now capable of engaging in technologically mediated behavior that may create great harm as well as good, traditional ethical reasoning relied upon through the course of recent civilization is not up to the challenges of dealing with scientific uncertainties about impacts of these new technologies. Because of the magnitude and power of new technologies, the complexity of ecological systems affected by these technologies, and the scope of the kinds of impacts that may be caused by these technologies, humans are faced with new challenge to ethical reasoning.

In light of the fact that accurate predictions may not be made about whether great harms will be caused by these new technologies, Jonas claimed that the ethics of dealing with scientific uncertainty may be the most pressing ethical problem facing the human race.

Because there is a lot at stake from the new technologies, but uncertainties about the nature of the harms that could take decades to be resolved if they can be resolved at all, ethical reasoning is deeply challenged.  Because of this, Jonas argued that ethics requires that humans must apply a “heuristics of fear” to their deliberations about whether they should deploy new potentially harmful technologies about which there is reasonable scientific basis for concern. That is, decision-makers should assume the harms will occur if there is a scientific basis for concern that significant harms could occur. Jonas claimed that in such situations, precaution is both ethically mandated and may be necessary for human survival. Furthermore, precaution in these situations requires that those who propose dangerous activities assume the burden of proof to show that the activities are safe. This is especially true for human behaviors that could create catastrophic harms.

When burdens of proof should shift is a complex ethical question but without doubt an ethical question at its core, not a “value-neutral” scientific matter alone. To determine when burdens should shift, ethics would require that other questions be examined such as who may be harmed, have they consented to be put at risk, what is at stake, will waiting to resolve the uncertainties make the problem much worse, who wants to use uncertainty as an excuse for continuing dangerous behavior, what is the probability that great harms could be triggered by the behavior in question, and other questions.

Climate change is an extraordinary example of the kind of problem that Jonas was worried about. That is so because it is a problem about which there will always be some uncertainty about the precise impacts from human-induced warming, yet these impacts are potentially catastrophic particularly for tens of millions of current people and innumerable members of future generations. Therefore great care must be taken in considering uncertainty about climate change. That is, climate change is a problem about which some facts are uncertain (although as we shall see, there is a strong scientific consensus about many aspects of this problem), yet the stakes are extraordinarily high. Therefore, ethics requires enormous care in discussing and considering uncertainties in these situations.

If Jonas is right, great care is called for in regard to how scientific uncertainty about climate change impacts is considered, discussed, and identified. Jonas foresaw the ethical challenges entailed by decision-making in the face of uncertainty for a problem like climate change but perhaps underestimated how economic interests aligned with the technologies threatening humanity would distort public discussion of the potential harms created by human activities.

This series will both review the climate change disinformation campaign in light of these concerns and make recommendations about what should be expected from scientific skepticism in light of the issues of concern to Jonas. The series will further argue, in light of the tactics of the disinformation campaign, that deeper societal reflection about the norms that should guide public discussions of scientific uncertainty is urgently needed.

II. Climate Science and Uncertainty

Climate change must be understood to be at its core an ethical problem because : (a) it is a problem caused by some people in one part of the world who are threatening poor people who are often far away in time and space, (b) the harms to these victims are potentially catastrophic, and (c) the victims can’t protect themselves by petitioning their governments who have no jurisdiction over those causing the problem. The victims must hope that those causing the problem will see that their ethical duties to the vulnerable require them to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.

Because climate change is an ethical problem, those causing the problem may not use self-interest alone as justification for policy responses; they must fulfill responsibilities, obligations and duties to others. Because climate change is a moral problem, those who are putting others at risk through no fault of their own have a special duty to be precautious about scientific uncertainty. If anything, the need for care in considering harms from powerful technology recognized by Jonas is even more salient in the case of a problem like climate change because it is a problem that is caused by some that are putting others at great risk.that have not consented to be threatened.

This series should not be construed to discourage scientific skepticism. Skepticism is both the oxygen and catalyst of science. Climate science continues to need skeptical approaches to current understandings of how human activities may affect the climate to help scientists understand what we don’t know about human impacts on the climate system.

However, a review of the tactics used by the scientific disinformation campaign will reveal that these tactics can’t be construed as the application of reasonable scientific skepticism, but, as we shall see, often constitute malicious, morally reprehensible disinformation. Yet these tactics provide important lessons about norms that should guide reasonable skepticism.

This series should also not be interpreted to discourage free speech. Some people that have echoed the misinformation on climate science produced by others are simply repeating what others have said. Yet free speech is morally reprehensible if it deceives people about vitally important matters. For instance, it would be morally reprehensible to tell a child laying on a railroad track that no train was coming if the person telling the child did not have strong evidence for the claim that no train was actually coming. For this reason, a case can be made that despite free speech, all public claims about climate change should be made carefully. Although all people are free to state their views on the dangers of climate change, if they are claiming that they are experts to convince a wider public about what climate science entails, they have a special duty to be very careful about their claims.

Now it is undoubtedly true that a few that have argued in support of climate change policies have exaggerated what the consensus science is saying about likely impacts of human activities that release greenhouse gases. A notable example of this was a movie, “The Day After Tomorrow,” that depicted extremely rapid climate change at rates far faster than would be supported any reasonable scientific speculation. Yet, the disinformation campaign discussed in this series is not simply attacking hyperbole on the part of those that support climate change policies, it is attacking the consensus view that has been based, as we shall see, upon peer-reviewed science, not on the hyperbole of climate change policy proponents. That is, this series examines the tactics of the disinformation campaign in relation to the conclusions of mainstream science that has largely been established through the process of peer-review. However, we are not claiming that peer-reviewed science is the final word on any scientific issue, only that peer-review is the scientific process that has been established to prevent unsupportable scientific claims. Those who believe that the peer-reviewed literature on any scientific subject is untrustworthy. must themselves subject their claims to peer-review particularly in the case of a problem like climate change, a matter about which the stakes are extraordinarily high and great care about uncertainty claims is ethically warranted.

We note that peer review of the consensus view has found a few problems with the IPCC statements about climate change impacts and is likely to do so in the future. Yet these problems have been few in number and to be expected in any report as voluminous as the IPCC reports. Nor have these mistakes affected the conclusions reached by IPCC in any major way.

Although one can find hyperbolic claims about climate change from those who support climate change policies, however, the consensus view does assume that human-induced climate change could be very catastrophic for some people and places if not most of the world. This is not hyperbole, it is where the mainstream science points as potential consequences of business-as-usual. Yet, to say that catastrophic consequences are possible is not to claim they are absolutely certain. All reasonable climate scientists will admit that there may be negative feedbacks in the climate system that we don’t understand. Yet the mainstream scientists claim that these negative feedbacks are increasingly unlikely. These worries about potential catastrophic impacts are not hyperbolic, however, just because they are not proven. In fact, as we shall see, ethics actually requires people to act responsibly once it becomes evident that their actions could cause great harm. As a matter of ethics, responsibility does not start only when it is proven that behavior will cause great harm. For instance, laws of reckless endangerment that have been enacted around the world make dangerous behavior criminal. Defendants in reckless endangerment cases may not defend themselves on the grounds that the prosecution did not prove that their behavior would cause harm, the prosecution need only prove that the behavior could cause serious harm. That is potential harm is relevant to ethical considerations.

To understand the full moral unacceptability of the disinformation campaign, one must know something about the state of climate science. There is a “consensus” view on climate science that has been articulated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (IPCC, 2010a)

The IPCC was established by World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 1988 to assess for governments the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, an identify its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. (IPCC, 2010a) IPCC does not do original research but synthesizes and summarizes the extant peer-reviewed climate change science to make recommendations for governments and policy makers. (IPCC, 2010a)

Any government that is a member of the WHO or UNEP may be a member of IPCC. Currently 194 countries are members of the IPCC (IPCC, 2011). The coordinating work of the IPCC is the IPCC general assembly, where every member country has one vote. The IPCCs summary for policy makers requires unanimous agreement. Governments that have often opposed international action on climate change on scientific grounds because of economic concerns including the United States and Saudi Arabia, not to mention China and India who have been afraid that climate change policies could prevent their governments from lifting their poor out of poverty have the same power as governments that have traditionally strongly supported international action on climate change. Governments supporting international action on cliamte change include those in the European Union and many of the small island developing states including the Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Maldives. Given that the IPCC’s reports must be unanimously approved by all member countries, including representatives of countries that have for most of the history of international climate change negotiations opposed establishing international enforceable climate change regimes, one can conclude that there is broad consensus about IPCC’s scientific conclusions among all nations around the world. In light of the consensus process, it is not credible to conclude that IPCC’s conclusions are biased to overstating the risks of climate change. In addition, IPCC ties its conclusions to peer-reviewed evidence in thousands of foot-notes in their reports.

The first IPCC assessment report was published in 1990; the second in 1996; the third in 2001; and the fourth in 2007. Each IPCC report drew conclusions linking human activities to observable warming with increasing levels of certainty. (IPCC, 2010a) The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President of the United States Al Gore.

The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) was completed in early 2007. Like previous reports, this assessment consisted of four reports, three of them from each of its working groups. Working Group I assesses the physical science basis for climate change. Working Group II examines climate change impacts. Working Group III assesses options for mitigating climate change through limiting greenhouse gas emissions or enhancing activities that remove carbon from the atmosphere. (IPCC, 2010b) In addition to the reports of these three Working Groups, AR4 also included a Synthesis Report. (IPCC, 2010c)

The Working Group I Summary for Policymakers in AR4 concluded that human actions were causing dangerous climate change with higher levels of certainty than in previous reports. Its key conclusions were that:
• Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
• Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increases in anthropogenic (human) emissions greenhouse gas concentrations.
• Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise will continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations are stabilized, although the likely amount of temperature and sea level rise varies greatly depending on the fossil intensity of human activity during the next century.
• The probability that this is caused by natural climatic processes alone is less than 5%.
• World temperatures could rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 °C (2.0 and 11.5 °F) during the 21st century. As a result:

o Sea levels will probably rise by 18 to 59 cm (7.08 to 23.22 in.) during the 21st century.
o There is a confidence level greater than 90% that there will be more frequent warm spells, heat waves and heavy rainfall.
o There is a confidence level greater than 66% that there will be an increase in droughts, tropical cyclones and extreme high tides.

• Both past and future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will continue to contribute to warming and sea level rise for more than a millennium.
• Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values over the past 650,000 years.
(IPCC 2007: Summary for Policy Makers)

Throughout this series we will refer to these IPCC conclusions about climate change as the “consensus” view because, as we will see, this view has been supported by almost all scientific organizations with expertise in relevant climate change science issues and most scientists that actually do climate change research.

By the early 1990s, a ”consensus” had developed in the scientific community that warming had occurred and that humans were at least partially responsible. (Edwards 2007:6)

Yet, criticisms of IPCC’s conclusions have been frequently made by skeptical scientists, some of whom are affiliated with conservative think tanks, while others are scientists playing the appropriate role of a scientific skeptic, a role necessary for science to advance, that is producing peer-reviewed scientific papers that challenge conventional scientific wisdom.

Skeptical claims about the consensus view are of many types and range from claims that IPCC is overestimating adverse climate change impacts to assertions that there is no evidence that observed warming is attributable to human actions. Some of the ideological climate change deniers discussed later in this series have argued that the entire body of science supporting the consensus view is a hoax.

Recent reports have concluded that the vast majority of scientists actually doing research in the field support the consensus scientific view. For example, a 2009 study–published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States–polled 1,372 climate researchers and resulted in the following two conclusions.

(i) 97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC (Anthropogenic Climate Change) outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and
(ii) The relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.
(Anderegga et. al 2010)

Another poll performed in 2009 of 3,146 of known 10,257 Earth scientists concluded that 76 out of 79 climatologists who “listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change” believe that mean global temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and 75 out of 77 believe that human activity is a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures. (Doran and Zimmerman, 2009)

In response to arguments from some climate change skeptics, many scientific organizations with expertise relevant to climate change have endorsed the consensus position that “most of the global warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities” including the following:
• American Association for the Advancement of Science
• American Astronomical Society
• American Chemical Society
• American Geophysical Union
• American Institute of Physics
• American Meteorological Society
• American Physical Society
• Australian Coral Reef Society
• Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
• Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO
• British Antarctic Survey
• Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
• Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
• Environmental Protection Agency
• European Federation of Geologists
• European Geosciences Union
• European Physical Society
• Federation of American Scientists
• Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
• Geological Society of America
• Geological Society of Australia
• International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA)
• International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
• National Center for Atmospheric Research
• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
• Royal Meteorological Society
• Royal Society of the UK
(Skeptical Science, 2010)

The Academies of Science from nineteen different countries all endorse the consensus view. Eleven countries have signed a joint statement endorsing the consensus position.
They are:
• Academia Brasiliera de Ciencias (Brazil)
• Royal Society of Canada
• Chinese Academy of Sciences
• Academie des Sciences (France)
• Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (Germany)
• Indian National Science Academy
• Accademia dei Lincei (Italy)
• Science Council of Japan
• Russian Academy of Sciences
• Royal Society (United Kingdom)
• National Academy of Sciences (USA):
(Skeptical Science, 2010):

From this it can be seen that the consensus view articulated by IPCC is strongly supported by the vast majority of climate change scientists that actually do research on human-induced climate change and organizations comprised of scientists with relevant climate change expertise. For this reason, the IPCC consensus position is entitled to strong respect that, at the very minimum, climate change poses a legitimate significant threat to human well-being and the natural resources on which life depends.

In fact, some critics have contended that the IPCC reports tend to underestimate climate change dangers and risks because the process that leads to the IPCC conclusions give representatives from countries that have consistently opposed the adoption of international climate regimes power to pressure the IPCC scientists to report only the lowest common denominator. (For a discussion of the limits of IPCC, see, Brown, 2008) In fact observations of actual greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations, temperatures, and sea level rise are near or exceeding IPCC worst-case predictions. One recent comparison of greenhouse gas concentrations, temperatures, and sea-level rise observations versus predictions concluded:

Overall, these observational data underscore the concerns about global climate change. Previous projections, as summarized by IPCC, have not exaggerated but may in some respects even have underestimated the climate changes that have been observed.
(Rahmstorf et al., 2007)

It is important as a mater of ethics to remember that if the consensus view is wrong, it could be wrong in two directions. That is, not only could IPCC be overstating the magnitude and timing of climate change in the future, they may be understating the harshness of climate change harms..

However, even if one concludes that there is a strong scientific basis for the mainstream scientific conclusion that human-induced climate change is a great threat to people around the world and the ecological systems on which they depend, this does not mean that responsible scientific skepticism may not play an important role in climate change science in the future. Yet, as we shall see, much of the ideological climate disinformation that has been prominent in the climate change debate in the United States and a few other developed countries is sometimes deeply ethically abhorrent.

This consensus is not a consensus on all scientific issues in climate science; it is a consensus about the fact that the planet is warming, that this warming is largely human caused, and that under business-as-usual we are headed to potentially catastrophic impacts for humans and the natural resources on which life depends.

Furthermore, these harms are likely to be most harshly experienced by many of the Earth’s poorest people.

Mainstream climate science openly acknowledges uncertainties that could affect the warming response of the global climate system to increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. As Hulme notes:

Some uncertainty originates from incomplete understanding of how the physical climate works-the effect of atmospheric aerosols on clouds, for example, or the role of deep oceans in altering surplus heat exchange. Some of these uncertainties can be reduced over tie, or at least quantified formally. Other sources of uncertainty emerge from the innate unpredictability of large, complex, chaotic systems such as the global atmosphere and oceans. (Holme, 2009 :83)

In fact all uncertainties about the impacts of human activities on the climate system will likely never completely be resolved. This is so because, the climate system is comprised of many interlocking systems including the atmosphere, the oceans, the cryosphere (ice and snow), the land surface (soil and reflecting substances), and the biosphere (ecosystems, agriculture, forests, etc). (Edwards, xv) It is also a chaotic system which means that small changes in inputs can create large system responses as thresholds are exceeded that create non-linear responses. It is very unlikely that humans will ever be able to eliminate all uncertainties that have confounded accurate climate system predictions. Yet the scientific basis for concluding that humans are affecting the climate system in a way that could cause harsh consequences for tens of millions of people is a matter about which a strong scientific consensus has emerged.

The next entry in this series will examine several specific tactics of the climate change disinformation campaign though an ethical lens after discussing the nature of the disinformation movement. The third in the series will examine other tactics of that have been deployed to undermine mainstream science. The last entry will make recommendations for responsible climate science skepticism in light of what was discussed earlier in the series and with full recognition that skepticism should be encouraged provided it plays by the rules of science.

Donald A. Brown
Associate Professor,
Environmental Ethics, Science and Law
Penn State University

Agrarwala, Shardul and Stiener Anderson, 1999, Indispensability and Indefensibility?:The United States In Climate Treaty Negotiations. ” 2w Governance 5, December 1999).

Brown, Donald, 2008, Ethical Issues Raised by the Work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Report On The Bali Workshop (COP-13). Climate Ethics.

Doran, Peter T.; Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, 2009. Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, EOS 90 (3): 22-23
Edwards, Paul, 2006, A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and The Politics of Global Warming, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), 2007, IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007, Working Group I, Summary for Policy Makers,
Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), 2010a, History,

Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), 2010c,

Jonas. H. 1979, Imperative of Responsibility, In Search for Ethics In A Technological Age, University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Rahmstorfl Stepen, Anny Cazenave, John A. Church, James E. Hansen,Ralph F. Keeling, David E. Parker, Richard C. J. Somervilles, 2007, Recent Climate Observations Compared to Projections, Science, Vol 316 , May 2007

Skeptical Science, 2010, What the Science Says: s (retrieved, Jan 3, 2011)

Chinese University Hosts First Conference in China on Climate Change Ethics.

Nanjing University of Science Information and Technology in collaboration with the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State University organized the first conference on climate change ethics in China that was held on October 29 and 30 in Nanjing. This conference examined the ethical dimensions of climate change as well as other economic, legal, and policy issues entailed by climate change policy-making. Papers presented included nine papers on climate change ethics, eight papers on climate change policy and law, and eight papers on social and economic issues entailed by climate change.
This conference was particularly notable because both Chinese and non-Chinese participants appeared to agree that climate change must be understood to be essentially an ethical matter that can only be solved through reliance on some common global values. To this writer’s knowledge, this was the first conference in China that expressly explored the ethical views of Chinese and Western ethicists about climate change.
The papers presented at the conference included the following:
A. Climate Change Ethics And Philosophy
1. The Practical Significance of Understanding Climate Change As An Ethical Problem (Donald A. Brown, Penn State University)
2. The Border Between Climate Change And Libertarianism (Jun Chen, Hubei University)
3. Thoughts On Climate Change And The Conflict Of National Interest (Gang Guo, Institute of Climate Change and Public Policy-Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
4. Review On The Climate Change Ethics (Jun Shi, Institute of Climate Change and Public Policy-Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
5. Philosophical Review On Climate Change (Fan Chen & Guozhang Liu, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
6. Analysis On The Root Of Climate Crisis Through Biological Marxism (Feng Xu, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
7. Possibilities Of Global Cooperation On Climate-the Dilemma Of Nation-State Theory And World Theory (Fangxing Ye, Hehai University)
8. Climate Justice And Climate Ethics (Rongnan Zhang, Department of Philosophy-East China Normal University)
9. Climate Change: Ethical Dimension On Sustainable Development (Siwei Dai, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
B. Section Two: Climate Change Policy And Law
1. Discussion, Debate, And Democratic Negotiation: The Choice Of Tools In Global Climate Change Policy Making (Xiangrong Su, Institute of Climate Change and Public Policy-Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
2. Adaptation To Climate Change Impacts: Challenges To China’s Environmental Law And Changing Directions (Xiangbai He, Law School-Western Sydney University)
3. Response And Choice To The Climate Legislation And Regulation Under Multiple Pursuits Of Benefits (Xiaodan Song & Zhangjun Pang, Institute of Climate Change and Public Policy-Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
4. Research On Regulation Of Atmospheric Property Under Climate Change (Shibin Wu, Institute of Climate Change and Public Policy-Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
5. Study On The Legislation Of Human-impact Climate Change (Zhi Qiao, Institute of Climate Change and Public Policy-Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
6. The Inspiration of “Others Theory” Of Ethics On Contemporary Public Policy (Xi Wang, China mMeteorology Bureau)
7. A Brief Analysis On The Cooperation On Climate Study Across Taiwan Straits In The Last 60 Years (Suhua Yong & Xiangping Liu, Institute of Climate Change and Public Policy-Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
8. Research On The NGOs’ Influence In Coping With Climate Change (Meili Tang, Huijuan Shi, & Fengjiang Cheng, Institute of Climate Change and Public Policy-Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
Section Three: Economic And Social Management In Climate Change
1. Climate Change And Ecocities In China: Challenges And Opportunities To Building A Sustainable And Equitable Society (Erich W.Schienke)
2. Efficiency And Reduction In China: Carbon Tax Or Sectoral Cap And Trade? (Rongxiang Cao, Central Bureau of Translation)
3. Energy Saving In China: Tax, Control On Total Amount In Each Department, Or Trade? (Rongxiang Cao, Central Bureau of Translation)
4. Democratic Governance: Probe On The Democratic Mode In Coping With Climate Change (Zhijiang Li, Institute of Climate Change and Public Policy-Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
5. Change Of The “Leadership” Of Global Environmental Control: Case Study In Canada (Laihui Xie, Central Bureau of Translation)
6. Path Selection Of China’s Ecological Regulation Construction Through Ecological Civilization (Fen Sun & Jie Cao, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
7. Climate Change, Eco-system, And A Sustainable Developing Society (Zhangguo Liu, Institute of Climate Change and Public Policy-Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
8. Research On The Factors That Drive Low Carbonization On China’s Traditional Manufacturing (Decai Tang & Changshun Li, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
9. Discussion On The Practical necessity And Basic Ideas On China’s Ecological Regulation (Fen Sun & Jie Cao, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
10. Analysis Of The Influence Of REDD On Slowing Down China’s Climate Change Process (Jichuan Sheng, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
For further information about this conference, contact Donald A Brown, Penn State University,
Donald A. Brown,
Associate Professor, Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law
Penn State University

Ethics and German Energy Policy- Energy Policy as Main Road to Sustainability?

Editor’s Note:
This post by guest blogger Dr. Michael W. Schröter discusses recent energy policy developments in Germany that have potentially profound ethical significance. The ethical significance can be attributed to two aspects of recent German energy policy discussed in this post. First, not only has the German government decided to shut down its nuclear power plants, it has passed laws that seek to assure that Germany will meet future energy demand by expanded reliance on renewable energy. In doing this, Germany is committing to assure that future energy consumption needs will be met by the most ethically benign methods of energy production, namely renewable energy. Secondly, the German energy policy is being understood as enhancing the ability of German citizens to control their own energy destinies through their ability to become less reliant on large electrical grid systems. In other words, energy policy can enhance democratic control of energy policy and by doing this enable citizens to choose a more sustainable future.

Energy Policy as Main Road to Sustainability?

Currently Germany is close to achieving some societal consensus about several issues that have been polarizing political and civil groups for over forty years: energy policy. Massive protests about nuclear power plants in the early 1970’s led to the establishment of a new political party–the Greens (Grüne Partei) in 1980. Since the mid 1980’s the German political debate focused more and more on questions of climate change. Increasingly energy questions have become the focus of public attention and recently energy has become the top political issue in Germany. The conservative party of chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), forming a coalition with the liberal party (FDP), completely changed her party’s position in just three months because their former more conservative positions on energy that had formerly been the basis for energy policy were no longer supported by the majority of the Germans. The recent Fukushima nuclear power disaster was, as Germans say, just the final drop which brought the tap to overflowing.

Energy policy allowed the social-democratic party of Germany (SPD) in coalition with the Greens to win a federal election in 1998, already, with the promise to end the use of nuclear power in Germany–twelve years after Chernobyl. So there has been a tradition of energy policy being an influence on the results of federal elections in Germany for some time. Now, however, the focus of political struggle is to find ways of transforming the energy supply completely from nuclear and fossil to renewable sources.

How do we explain this intense focus on energy issues and why have questions like the preservation of biodiversity not warranted the same public attention although they are, at least, as important?

Our whole way of life depends on energy. For this reason, we have adopted a life-style which consumes fossil resources (or, better, natural CO2-storages) rapidly while producing waste which will be there for many future generations and threatening the face of earth–including us–as we know it. Yet, although it is still, unfortunately, too early to say uncontroversially that we have a political consensus that Germany’s energy future will be completely comprised of renewable energy, it is even more controversial to say how we must achieve an exclusively renewable energy future.

But it is also clear that if we would be able to find a sustainable answer to the energy challenge this would give us real hope that we will be able to find solutions to other threats of the ecological crisis like the ongoing loss of biodiversity. Energy policy therefore appears to be the best candidate for seriously tackling most issues on the road to sustainable societies.

So far, mainly two approaches to an energy future in Germany can be identified. The first is to stick to traditional ways of producing energy and add technical options to diminish the risks. These include carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies for coal plants, the construction of more nuclear power plants that are being promoted as being climate neutral and various geo-engineering solutions to climate change.

The other approach is finding completely renewable energy sources coupled with energy storage options to solve the intermittency problem of some renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

The discussion of this second approach has become more than a sober technical debate among experts in Germany because people now understand that these choices will affect the way of life of every individual. This political discussion is beginning to be understood as more than just a technical question but a question of democracy in Germany because a renewable energy approach will affect the power of people to control their own destinies in ways that the pursuit of former larger energy technologies did not do. And so the debate about energy policy is becoming a debate around the culture and structure of political problem-solving in Western democracies.
Energy suppliers are mostly big companies with good connections to politicians. They do have the power to influence a public debate just by saying what kinds of options are realistic and which are not. The challenge is to find a democratic modus in which every citizen can actually choose what kind of energy supply structure he or she wants to be, a development that would allow citizens have a role in their energy future and no longer limit them to the mostly passive part citizens have played in energy policy. A renewable energy future allows citizens to become producers themselves. In some villages in Denmark and Germany, people have started projects to achieve exactly this: to become their own producers of energy just out of renewable sources. The future of energy policy in Germany will tell us if we can expect “normal” citizen to follow the ethical example of idealistic energy pioneers that are growing in numbers.

The democratic challenge of the energy debate therefore is to grant everyone the possibility of a fair choice; in some ways this can be considered as an ethical obligation that politics should embrace.

The German government tackled this challenge already 1990 with a legal framework guaranteeing everyone installing a renewable energy source a special amount of money for a fixed period of time. According to law, the big energy companies are obliged to inject this energy into their power grid. This partly adjusts the economical imbalance between big companies and citizens and gives the latter a fair choice to become a producer themselves, if he or she wants more renewable energy to be there. Surprisingly people installed nearly double of the amount than was expected. Energy policy was no longer a question of theoretical debates but practical action. Thereby it opened a new field of economical activity in the society which by now has become an important pillar of the German system. Therefore it does not surprise that the law declaring an end to the use of nuclear power by the year of 2022 in Germany is accompanied by another law that has established goals for the increase of renewable power: from now around 15% up to, at least, 35% by 2020 and 80-95% by 2050.

The experience in Germany shows another effect. By installing renewable power other environmental political issues are arising. Strangely we now see in Germany those who once argued for more renewable energy are founding action groups against some renewable projects and making claims such as that there are too many windmills, expressing concerns about windmills kill birds or are spoiling the landscape. These controversies are now much more frequent than former issues about the threat of a nuclear accident or the of the enormous carbon emissions of coal plants. Thus a growing culture of renewable energy is creating, as always, new political issues. But these problems are encouraging debates about not only how people will supply energy but new issues about how technology fits into nature. This can be considered an essential step on the road to sustainable societies. Another important issue that is arising is concerned with potential problems with renewable transportation fuels among other challenging transportation issues.

In summary, the move towards sustainable energy in Germany that is well under way is creating new political issues about how a democratic society can achieve a greater control over its energy options as well as new questions about integrating human needs with ecological protection. One can see these developments as positive steps that are inevitable on the road to a sustainable future.

Dr.Michael W. Schröter (Berlin, GER)