Climate Change and the Ethical Storm - GURBANI WALIA

We are the first generation to witness the unprecedented change in the climate of the earth. Climate change is already impacting millions of people and is bound to get severe with time. The irreversible and catastrophic effects of climate change are not only harmful for the environment, as environment and humans are very closely related, it poses an existential threat to the human race. Keeping environmental justice in mind some scholars have termed the present climate crisis as the “perfect moral storm”as it brings forward the three crucial challenges before us.

First and the most obvious one is that emissions are global. This means that the emissions emitted at one place do not stay there. This is also called the tragedy of the commons, collectively all the States fight to reduce their carbon emissions but individually they keep polluting, the present international set up does not do anything to bridge the gap between the global north and south. In the name of free market and development the global south is unduly exploited by the global north for monetary benefit, the south benefits less from this ‘development’ and pays more in terms of environmental cost.

The other challenge is that the emissions that the past generation made and that the present generation is making have intergenerational effects, as greenhouses gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide, methane, etc. stay in the atmosphere for a considerable amount of time. The GHGs are one of the leading causes behind the earth’s rising temperature.This will be unfair to the future generations, as they will have to face harsher whether conditions because of how we are treating the environment today.

The third challenge is that our theoretical tools are not developed enough to help us deal with the above mentioned challenges. We still don’t have a set way to go about intergenerational ethics, international justice, responsibility of big corporation, moving away from anthropocentricism etc. and this is leaving the efforts made by international organizations and agreements redundant.

Humans, being the only animal capable to understand the present crisis and being the principle perpetrator, have the responsibility to conserve nature and its vast resources. To mitigate climate change we need to hold our respective governments accountable but at the same time we also need a cultural revolution to alter how we look at the environment altogether. For a truly sustainable future we need to stop viewing humans as something outside the nature and move towards a more eco-centric approach. For example, Capitalism a school of thought, which the entire human civilization seems to be structured around is inherently unsustainable and the influence it has on Sustainable Development Goals, international organizations and agreements is why we haven’t been able to effectively mitigate climate crisis.

Capitalism was designed with the idea of allocating scares resources and to encourage human ingenuity with the intention of improving the living standard of those who are able to participate in the process.[1]Although by extensively exploiting natural resources capitalism has managed to generate a large amount of wealth and prosperity, but only in the hands of a select few and has caused severe and in some instances irreversible damage to the environment. It generates large quantities of atmospheric pollution, garbage and degrading the environment in other forms.

Capitalism is not inherently evil but it is not inclined towards sustainable behaviours as the cost benefit analysis that the capitalist make is superficial. The capitalist theory tells us that we should not worry about the excessive extraction of the fossil fuels and degradation of the environment because there is an invisible hand of the market which will eventually find an alternative for it. But this assumption is untrue we live in a world of finite resources which are to be used judicially for the social wellbeing that capitalism promises. The idea that all resources can be replaces is a fallacious argument to justify mindless exploitation and consumption of resources. Clean water, air, hospitable climate is not replaceable and the current exploitation of resources on the pretext that the future generations will develop alternations is unethical on our part and puts the coming generations at a very disadvantageous position.

When it comes to the obsessing over increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) our international instruments are not free from that in the sense they are not efficient enough because they always put the economy above anything else. The Brundtland report introduced the Sustainable Development Goals to fight poverty, reduce mortality, promote better health and to maintain economic growth while keeping environment in mind and mitigating biodiversity loss and climate change. The SDG have been criticized for its overarching emphasis on economic development but some scholars argue that the anthropocentric approach is the natural way to go about it as all species are inherently selfish[2]but anthropocentricism is problematic as human beings, the most advanced species on the planet exploit the environment for their own benefit at the expense of all other species. By this view the subordination of the environment to fulfill the needs of the human beings leaves everything that is not of use to them expandable, which is a big ethical concern.Focusing exclusively on human industrial and economic development endangers our ecosystem at large. SDGs only concern one specie when talking about economic growth, resilience and inclusion, which puts all other natural systems at risk and make the Sustainable Goals of Development not so “sustainable”.

Those who benefit the most from environmental degradation suffer the least of it consequences and those who contribute the least to environmental degradation suffer the most of its consequences, this question of environmental justice is an important ethical issue we need to resolve to survive the present climate crisis. The general public is more aware about the environment crisis and the role played by capitalism in it than ever and the environmental movements and activist like Greta Thunsberg are challenging the climate deniers and to do our part we not only need to stand hand in hand with activists like her but also need to bring big changes in our lives and hold our governments responsible for their inefficiency.

[1]Park, J.T. Climate Change and Capitalism. The Journal of Sustainable Development, 2015 [2]Hayward, T. Anthropocentricism: A Misunderstood Problem. Environmental Values, 1997

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