Fall 2014 (28.3) Essay

Moral Collapse in a Warming World

Carbon emissions have now accumulated to the point where avoiding warming by 2 degrees Celsius is impossible. Even under optimistic assumptions about the speed with which countries might respond, it now seems likely that the world will warm by 4 degrees Celsius or more, which will transform the conditions of life on the planet and result in catastrophes. Even the overly cautious analysis of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cannot disguise these facts. Indeed, we know with certainty what must be done to avoid enormous harm, particularly to poor and vulnerable people—a task rendered less onerous by the fact that all economic studies show that the transition to a low-carbon energy system could be achieved at modest cost. Rather than creating a perfect storm, the ethical winds blow strongly in one direction. Yet moral corruption prevails not because the situation is inherently murky, but because confusion has been deliberately sown, and because the public and political representatives have welcomed reasons to shirk their ethical obligations.

There are three kinds of actors in this process of subversion: those who tell the lies, those who repeat the lies, and those who allow themselves to be seduced by the lies.

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