Global Warming Disaster Merits Widespread Moral Outrage
Global warming will take its toll of human life to the tune of hundreds of thousands every year. According to John Broome--the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Oxford--these unfortunate victims of society's next big challenge will die by three main causes: heat waves, expansion of tropical diseases to temperate latitudes, and increased flooding. And yet many of my fellow EEB (ecology and evolutionary biology) grad students felt that the direct loss of life was a pittance in comparison with the indirect effects of global warming, such as the loss of ecosystem services caused by the devastation of the natural world and the social turmoil associated with the inundation of the many millions of homes by the rising oceans.
There are three paradoxes to the politics of global change, which together can only lead to the conclusion that the US government's stance is horrendously unjust. The Bush stance to which I'm referring is the recent decision to withdraw completely from negotiations for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. By this international treaty, the Clinton administration had agreed to limit US emissions of CO2--the largest anthropogenic contributor to global warming--to 7% less than 1990 levels by 2007. Bush's decision directly contradicted an explicit campaign promise to limit national emissions of air pollutants including carbon dioxide. This monumental decision enraged EU leaders and humiliated EPA director (ex-NJ Governor) Christie Whitman, who had just stated publicly that Bush would implement the Kyoto Protocol.
The first paradox is that Bush's justification of the decision is that the Protocol is unfair to US because it does not explicitly limit the emissions of developing nations, including China. The preposterous nature of this claim is seen by considering the details of the Protocol, which is structured to be unfairly generous to the US. The negotiations are focussed on future emissions as a proportion of the 1990 emissions. The US--with less than 5% of the world's population, emits 25% of the world's greenhouse gases. Even if China were to double its emissions, it would still emit several times less per capita than the US. As visiting ethics professor Dale Jamieson has pointed out, per capita emissions--not 1990 baseline rates--are the only defensible currency for negotiations on climate change (note: Dr. Jamieson is talking about ethics and global warming next Wednesday at 4:30pm in Guyot 10 in Princeton's Ecology & Ethics Seminar Series, organized by professors Jim Gould and Peter Singer). Does the US really expect developing countries to say, "Okay, since you have been polluting our atmosphere much more for much longer--and are the cause of many of the warming problems we are already experiencing and will experience for the next four decades [the lag between the emissions and their effect on climate]--you should be allowed to continue at this...