It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Public Talk (by me): Ethics of Carbon

I'll be speaking at the Ethical Society of Austin this Sunday, November 2, on "The Ethics of Carbon".

The Ethical Society is a humanistic religious organization dedicated to personal ethics and reason, committed to the idea that each individual has inherent worth and dignity and inspired by the ideal that the supreme aim of human life is working to create a more humane society. I'm an active member of this group.
Coffee and pastries are served at 10:00 a.m. The meeting starts at 10:30 a.m. The location is at the Austin Museum of Art campus at Laguna Gloria, which is at the cul de sac at the very western tip of 35th Street in central Austin (shown as 'Bull Creek Rd' on this Google Map).

After the meeting there is a social hour. This is a time for visitors, friends, and members of ethical culture to get to know each other better. We clump together into smaller groups where we continue to discuss the day's program, catch up with each other's lives, or simply engage in pleasant conversation over a potluck lunch.
What I'm going to talk about is the ethical implications of global warming for our lives, if we assume that what climate scientists are saying is correct. For what it's worth, I do believe what climate scientists say is essentially correct, but defending that is not the point of this platform.

I think there's a lot of misunderstanding of what the global warming situation implies for how we will live in the future. I think it's fundamentally an ethical question, and inescapably a political one as well. It's also complicated. It's both daunting and fascinating.

A crucial point is that we can't solve this as individuals, with "personal virtue" alone. As Al Gore said at his Nobel lecture:

"There is an African proverb that says, "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." We need to go far, quickly. We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action."

Of course, collective action often goes wrong, and we can't afford too many mistakes on this scale!

There are two main questions in thinking about global warming; whether the scientific basis of this way of thinking about nature is basically correct is one of them. That gets most of the attention but that's not the topic of this platform. The topic at hand is: presuming it is true, what are the implications, especially the ethical ones? There are a few more inconvenient truths that politicians and the press don't like to mention but that need some attention.

Visitors are welcome, and there will be time for discussion. I'd appreciate an RSVP from anyone coming on account of this blog posting. I've got a few readers in Austin and the I-35 corridor according to the logs that I haven't met. I'd be delighted to make your acquaintance.

5 comments:

thingsbreak said...

I think there's a lot of misunderstanding of what the global warming situation implies for how we will live in the future.

I won't be able to attend in person, but as mentioned in a previous post, I recently picked up Bill McKibben's Deep Economy. I haven't read much past the introduction, but in it he makes the obvious point that the pursuit of emissions reductions must of course take into account people like a young girl in China, who deserve to have the opportunity to be raised out of poverty.

In reading past comments at Dot Earth, or by either Spencer or Christy (I can't remember which), I don't understand where the myth that those who seek to avoid the worst aspects of climate change are callous towards the rights of those in poorer nations comes from.

A few years back, the smear was that we wanted to funnel the hard-earned tax dollars of white Christians to the brown third world as part of a massive Red Conspiracy. I'm curious as to when this newer meme started and why it seems to have taken hold despite it's obvious conflict with the older one.

In any case, the emissions solution from my perspective is inseparable from social justice given the tool sets that we have. In fact the tool sets for solving both largely overlap, as in the case of education of women and access to reproductive health care. Or rewarding developing countries for the protection of their natural forests rather than incentivizing their exploitation/destruction.

Best wishes on your talk. Let us know how it goes.

Michael Tobis said...

Ah, TB, you give it all away.

Yes. My thoughts on the matter are much influenced by EcoEquity.

In short, we (by which I mean everybody) don't know how to solve global problems. We'd better figure it out fast.

David B. Benson said...

thingsbreak --- Christy

Michael Tobis said...

Yeah. Eli is going on at some length about this sort of thing right now.

It occurs to me that there are some people who believe Obama has a Muslim - homosexual agenda as if that made any damned sense.

Jane Smiley, despite her sweet name, has some terrifying musings about the new incoherence.

The upshot is this. She says:

"The God of the right wing, and of the Bible, is a pretty arbitrary guy. He lays down the rules, but you can get those boils or those locusts even if you didn't knowingly do anything wrong, in fact, even if you didn't do anything wrong at all. Your personal God could punish you for something someone else did, as in the Bible he frequently punishes the enemies of Israel, men, women, children, dogs, cats, goats, etc., just for being the enemies of Israel. I love how right wing preachers pray away hurricanes, sending them to places like Bermuda. If your God is arbitrary, then of course you are always anxious and depressed -- your adrenaline is always pumping. And you are never motivated to understand how the world works. But locusts and boils and hurricanes have causes -- physical, medical, and ecological. Society can avoid locusts and boils and even mitigate the effects of hurricanes if it understands cause and effect, but if your God is an arbitrary authoritarian, and your father was an arbitrary authoritarian, then you never truly understand cause and effect in the world we live in. As we all know, no religion has ever successfully answered the problems raised by the issue of an omnipotent God. The best they offer is to forbid questioning, and to punish those who do."

Hank Roberts said...

> EcoEquity

Yes.