Monday, January 26, 2009

The ethics of climate change: James Garvey

I listen to a weekly podcast called Ethics Bites through the BBC's Open University. Recently, the practical philosopher James Garvey (pictured at right courtesy of BBC) who works at the Royal Institute of Philosophy spoke with host Nigel Warburton about the ethics of climate change. He considers climate change as an ongoing event, the role that the "developed" world has played in catastrophic climate change, the role that the "developed" world should play, and what individual people can and should do to prevent possible global calamity.

Nigel: The topic we’re focusing on today is ethics and climate change. I know you’re not a scientist but you have done a lot of research into the effects of climate change; I wonder if you can sketch what’s going to happen unless we take very serious action.

James: Well the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has done a lot of surveys of the literature and they give us a range of 1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius as the amount of warming we can expect in the next century. The bottom end of that is associated with a world in which we don’t emit another whisper of carbon dioxide. The changes that are already underway are things like retreat of snow cover. That’s worrying because 1/6th of the population gets its water from melting snow and ice. Hot extremes will become more frequent. Typhoons and hurricanes will become more intense. Precipitation will change throughout the world – places that are already wet will become more so, and there’ll be more flooding. Places that are dry will experience more drought. There’s a possibility of worse to come; things like the gulf-stream could shut down in the future if things carry on as they are. And also of course the sea level will rise. If you think in terms of plants and animals, something like 15% to 37% of plants and animals will be locked into extinction by 2050. We’re living through the 6th major extinction our planet has experienced. The last one did in the dinosaurs. In 2003, 35,000 people died as a result of just heat in Europe, so the heat alone can kill us. And it’s also true that as the sea level rises, peoples’ lives will have to change: half the people on the planet currently live on the coast...

So it continues. To listen to the podcast, click here to download the mp3. If you want to read it, click here.

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