Due Friday, May 14.
The scientific community has warned of the high likelihood of rapid anthropogenic climate change. Should such change occur over the coming decades, the consequences might include:
- rising sea levels and the inundation of low-lying coastal areas
- intensification of droughts and desertification
- water shortages in places that depend on glacial meltwater for drinking water and irrigation (such as parts of India)
- an increase in the frequency and scale of flooding in some areas
- a change in growing season that will affect agriculture and wild plants and animals in ways that might lead to results such as pollinator life cycles being out of step with their food sources and an increasing rate of species extinctions
- ocean acidification and the possible collapse of marine food chains
- increased heatwave-related deaths
- increased malnutrition and starvation in areas without food security
- increased ground-level ozone in urban areas and thus increased asthma deaths
- altered distribution of infectious diseases
- an increase in environmental refugees
Addressing climate change is generally framed as a political problem. Certainly there are many considerations that are far beyond the scope of this class. But there are also ways of evaluating the problem from an ethical viewpoint. For instance, some people have claimed that addressing climate change through the reduction of personal carbon emissions and/or through political action is a priority. Another ethical consideration is that some people are likely to suffer while some are likely to avoid suffering or even benefit.
Is there a moral duty to address climate change through individual action and/or through political action? Are there ethical grounds for preferring some responses to others? Is the distribution of suffering likely to be fair—or is that even a concern? If addressing climate change would require reducing people’s basic liberties, then should it be a moral priority or not?
Frame a single, narrow ethical issue and propose a way of working through it based on one of our four ethical frameworks. The action/response you propose may be broad (e.g., that people living today have a moral responsibility not to ignore the problem of climate change) or it may be specific (e.g. that the U.S. should invest in reconfiguring the electrical grid in ways that encourage the development of renewable forms of energy). If you choose to evaluate a specific policy proposal, then please give a citation to a source of information about it. [Hint: narrower, more focused problems usually make for more successful arguments because there is less confusion about what the issue is.]
The ethical frameworks we have studied include deontology, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, and the justice framework. I encourage you to try to apply a framework that you have not used so far because working through this assignment is one way of preparing for the final exam.
This outline is different from previous ones in that you may use up to 5 sentences to describe the issue. Please continue to write concisely. You may find that you can describe the issue you are framing in only one sentence. That would be fine. But a very specific policy proposal may require more background.
You may perform additional internet research, but please cite your sources and use your own words. Additional research is not required, but you do get credit for extra research that improves your work.
Finally, a note on the politics of climate change. The point of this exercise is to use a complex social problem to practice the application of our ethical frameworks. This topic provides a good opportunity to investigate the justice framework. Some people continue to be skeptical about the existence of climate change, or skeptical that humans can do anything about it, or skeptical that we should attempt to do anything about it even if we can. However, climate change has been identified by scientific, political, and religious authorities as a serious concern (the Pope has spoken movingly about the moral duties the problem raises). For the purposes of this exercise, if you are one of the skeptics, you may think of it as a hypothetical science fiction scenario, but one which incorporates the assumptions listed above.