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PHIL 100 (TED STOLZE ) NOTES ON CLIMATE JUSTICE. Reasons for Joining and Sustaining a Social Movement. Four Basic Questions about Climate Change. What is the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change? What would likely be the result of “business as usual”? Why should we care?

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phil 100 ted stolze notes on climate justice


Reasons for Joining and Sustaining a Social Movement

four basic questions about climate change
Four Basic Questions about Climate Change
  • What is the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change?
  • What would likely be the result of “business as usual”?
  • Why should we care?
  • What should we do individually and collectively?
what is the scientific evidence for human caused c limate change
What is the Scientific Evidence for Human-Caused Climate Change?
  • Climate proxies for determining the Earth’s paleoclimate, e.g., tree ring growth, CO2concentration in air bubbles trapped in deep ice core samples
  • Steady increase of CO2 in the current Earth’s atmosphere from the pre-industrial era (around 280ppm in 1750) to now before (around 400ppm in 2013)
  • Computer modeling based on such volcanic eruptions as Mt. Pinatubo (in the Philippines) in 1991
what are the probable climate outcomes of business as usual
What are the Probable Climate Outcomes of “Business as Usual”?
  • Ocean level rise leading to the erosion of coastal arfeas and even the inundation of small islands
  • Ocean acidification, coral bleaching, creation of “dead zones”—good for jellyfish, bad for large fish and cetaceans
  • Species loss, up to and including a mass extinction event
  • Extreme weather, e.g. more intense tropical storms, heavier rainfall, more frequent and longer heat waves
  • Forest die off and increase of fires, esp. in the southwestern U.S.
  • Extensive glacier and snow pack melting that threatens reliable fresh water access
  • Human health endangered, e.g. intensification of allergies, asthma
working assumptions
Working Assumptions

Let’s make the following assumptions about climate change:

As James Hansen and the world’s leading climate scientists have demonstrated, climate change is human-caused and is the result of releasing excessive greenhouse gas emissions (>350ppm CO2) into the earth’s atmosphere.

Continuing “business as usual” would threaten the survival of humanity and other species.

What is required, then, is urgent individual and collective action.

As a result, our focus is on the exercise of “practical reasoning”involved in identifying and assessing reasons that can be given to act or not to act in response to the moral problem of climate change.

planetary boundaries
Planetary Boundaries

According to new scientific research, there exist nine “planetary boundaries,” which are interlinked Earth-system processes and biophysical constraints: climate change, rate of biodiversity loss, interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, global freshwater use, change in land use, chemical pollution, and atmospheric aerosol loading. (*) Crossing even one of these boundaries would risk triggering abrupt or irreversible environmental changes that would be very damaging or even catastrophic for society. Furthermore, if any of these boundaries were crossed, then there would be a serious risk of crossing the others. However, as long as these boundaries are not crossed, “humanity has the freedom to pursue long-term social and economic development.”

(*)See Johan Rockström et al., “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” in Nature 461, September 23, 2009, pp. 472-475.

a working definition
A Working Definition

Let us define a sustainable society as “one that satisfies basic human needs without exceeding any of the nine planetary boundaries and so without diminishing the prospects for future generations to satisfy their basic needs as well.”

the moral problem
The Moral Problem

One should urgently act to halt any grave threat posing serious harm to others.

Crossing any of the nine planetary boundaries would be a grave threat posing serious harm to human beings.

Therefore, humanity should urgently act to avoid crossing these boundaries, or, if already crossed, to reverse course and resume social and economic development within them.

Dangerous climate change (>2˚C) will result from crossing one of the nine planetary boundaries.

But dangerous climate change is caused by releasing excessive greenhouse gas emissions into the earth’s atmosphere (>350 ppm CO2).

Therefore, humanity should urgently act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the earth’s atmosphere to a safe target (<350 ppm CO2).

two levels of action
Two Levels of Action



individual actions
Individual Actions

Educate yourself and others

Create music and art to raise awareness

Practice mindful, frugal, and sustainable consumption

Calculate, and try to reduce, your carbon footprint (

Reuse and recycle products

Buy local and organic

Reduce meat intake in diet

Walk, bicycle, carpool, or take mass transit

Conserve, use alternative energy sources, and insulate your home

two forms of collective action
Two Forms of Collective Action
  • From above: states and global treaties
  • From below: social movements pressuring states
state actions
State Actions

End militarism

Immediately halt the construction of all new coal-fired power plants and begin to phase out the use of coal as an energy source, except when the CO2 is captured and stored

Stop deforestation and soil-depleting agribusiness

Create incentives for businesses and households to replace unsustainable technologies and to adopt sustainable technologies

Move beyond the 1997 Kyoto Protocol by adopting stringent and enforceable targets

Establish a World Environment Organization

social movement actions
Social Movement Actions

Write letters, make phone calls, or send email to representatives

Vote for environmentally accountable candidates

Join existing or start new organizations and parties

Demand sustainable workplaces

Engage in direct action (e.g., marches, sit-ins, civil disobedience, and strikes)

Transform the socio-economic system from one based on limitless growth to one based on sustainable development (green capitalism vs. ecological socialism)

reasons for doing nothing 1
Reasons for Doing Nothing (1)

Ignorance of the problem

Skepticism about who caused the problem or how serious it is

Willful ignorance or stupidity (“I’m happy not to know more.”)

Cynicism (“I know very well, but whatever.”)

Apathy (“I don’t care.”)

Nihilism (“Nothing matters, anyway.”)

reasons for doing nothing 2
Reasons for Doing Nothing (2)

Denial (“I know enough that I don’t want to know more—it’s too painful.”)

Ethical Weakness (“I have resolved to do what is right, but I can’t help giving in to contrary desires.”)

Despair (“It’s too late, there’s nothing that can be done.”)

Greed (“Ican still make money off this.”)

Someone else will do it for me (Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie…)

God wants humans to dominate nature

God will take care of everything

reasons for doing nothing 3
Reasons for Doing Nothing (3)

Search for a quick technological fix (“Let’s put giant mirrors in space!”)

Theoretical or practical ineptitude (“It’s too complex; we can’t pull this off.”)

Reject the possibility of a collective solution (“I’ll just fend for myself.”)

the real obstacle our brains
The Real Obstacle: Our Brains?

Greg Craven has proposed that the real psychological obstacle is that human brains have evolved to deal most effectively with threats that are:

  • Intentional and personal
  • Violate our moral sensibilities
  • A clear and present danger
  • Involve quick changes rather than gradual changes

Unfortunately, as Craven notes, “global warming has none of these properties. It is impersonal, morally neutral, in the future, and gradual, and we’re just not wired to watch out for stuff like that” (pp. 72-3).

(*) See his new outstanding new book What’s the Worst that Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate (NY: Penguin, 2009).

reasons for doing something
Reasons for Doing Something

Rational self-interest and risk avoidance

Precautionary principle = if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or the environment, in the absence of a social consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would still advocate taking the action

Solidarity with the “wretched of the earth”

Concern for future generations

God wants humans to be good stewards of nature

Reverence for life

the wedge approach to climate stabilization
The “Wedge” Approach to Climate Stabilization

The wedge approach is a proposal by Princeton University ecologist Stephen Pacala and physicist Robert Socolow that climate stabilization could be achieved if society picked seven actions, or wedges, each starting from zero in the year 2004 and growing to avoid emissions of 1 gigaton of carbon per year in 2054. Pacala and Socolow provided fifteen options, of which any seven would suffice; more or fewer could be used if society’s goals changed. Four of the wedges involved different efforts to improve energy efficiency, one shifted much electric generation from coal to natural gas because gas provides almost twice the energy for the same amount of CO2 released, three wedges used different forms of capturing and storing CO2, one increased use of nuclear power, three implemented renewable energy, and two preserved carbon in forests and soils. Each of these options is already available at an industrial scale. Alley doesn’t claim to know which of these wedges are the best, or if others should be added. But this wedge approach to climate stabilization demonstrates that transition to a sustainable society does not have to occur all at once. With proper political commitment and enforceable treaties, it could be carried out through a combination of actions over several decades—but time is running out.

geo engineering

Geo-engineeringis the idea of covering up the effects of excessive atmospheric CO2 on the Earth’s climate, for example, by blocking some sunlightusing mirrors in space or spraying the upper atmosphere with sulfur particulate and cooling Earth just enough to offset the warming from the CO2.

concluding points
Concluding Points
  • This is science, not revealed truth, but the science is solid.
  • Delaying is not free.
  • Fossil fuels will run out.
  • We need alternatives to fossil fuels, and lots of them.
  • We haven’t been trying very hard.
  • Betting on the future can pay off, both economically and morally.
james hansen on never give up fighting spirit
James Hansen on “Never-Give-Up Fighting Spirit”

“How refreshing, on cold, windy Thanksgiving Plus One Day, which we spend with our children and grandchildren, when I went outside to shoot baskets with 5-year-old Connor. Connor is very bright, but needs work on his hand-to-eye coordination. I set the basket at a convenient height for him, but his first several shots banged off the backboard off-target. Then he said, very brightly and bravely, “I don’t quit, because I have never-give-up fighting spirit.” It seems his karate lessons are paying off.

Some adults need Connor’s help….

The most foolish no-fighting-spirit statement, made by scores of people, is this: “we have already passed the tipping point, it is too late.” They act as if a commitment to a meter of sea level rise is no different than a commitment to several tens of meters. Or, if a million species become committed to extinction, should we throw in the towel on the other nine million? What would the plan be then – escape to Mars? As I make clear in “Storms of My Grandchildren”, anybody who thinks we can transplant even one butterfly species to another planet has some loose screws. We must take care of the planet we have – easily the most remarkable one in the known universe….

Are we going to stand up and give global politicians a hard slap in the face, to make them face the truth? It will take a lot of us – probably in the streets. Or are we going to let them continue to kid themselves and us, and cheat our children and grandchildren?

Intergenerational inequity is a moral issue. Just as when Abraham Lincoln faced slavery and when Winston Churchill faced Nazism, the time for compromises and half-measures is over.

Can we find a leader who understands the core issue, and will lead?”

(Excerpted from: