An unfortunate misunderstanding is that humans living in the Anthropocene inevitably are or should be ethically anthropocentric (centering ethical agency and value primarily or exclusively on humans). No doubt the use of the Greek word for “human” (anthropos) in both of those words is partly responsible for the confusion. The Anthropocene is a geological epoch in which anthropogenic effects have reached planetary proportions, shaping not only local ecosystems but whole planetary systems, acidifying the oceans, melting the polar ice caps, warming the global climate, facilitating a mass extinction of species…. If the Anthropocene is a period of time in which Earth systems are covered with anthropogenic effects, does that mean the Anthropocene is anthropocentric?
Extreme weather events have been happening since there has been weather. The current frequency and intensity of those events clearly corresponds to the symptoms of anthropogenic climate change. For skepticism, we can never really know with a hundred percent certainty precisely what causal factors are at work. That applies to all things, not just complicated things. For example, for a skeptic, we can never really know if the sun is going to come up tomorrow. That lack of knowledge does not necessarily imply a lack of ethical considerations. Epistemic skepticism isn’t necessarily a moral skepticism, and moral skepticism does not necessarily imply personal inaction. After all, the sun may come up again tomorrow. Even though we can’t know it with a hundred percent certainty beforehand, it might be worth acting as if tomorrow will be another day.
The appropriation of skeptical thought by climate denialists (so-called “climate skeptics”) wrongly equivocates a whole series of things: lack of epistemic certainty becomes a lack of moral knowledge, and a lack of moral knowledge is a lack of justified moral belief, and most paradoxically, a lack of justified moral belief is justification for the moral belief that inaction is the appropriate response. This abject failure of epistemic and moral reasoning is not due to a lack of knowledge but to an excess. Climate skeptics know that anthropogenic climate change is really happening, and it terrifies them, because they know that it “changes everything,” as Naomi Klein aptly puts it. They know it’s happening, but they can’t admit it, so they simply disavow it or negate it, repress it or repudiate it. It’s denial. Continue reading
In Energy without Conscience: Oil, Climate Change, and Complicity (Duke University Press, 2017), David McDermott Hughes draws on his ethnographic work in Trinidad and Tobago to analyze the disregard, apathy, numbness with which most people interact with climate change. He highlights the banality of the complicities that connect people with energy, specifically with hydrocarbons (as he refers to oil, coal, natural gas, and bitumen), and he suggests that a moral response to climate change must redesign relationships with energy and replace complicity with conscience. In lieu of a book review, here are a few summary quotations from the book. Continue reading
What an amazing evening… the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, and at the same time, Barack Obama giving a speech accepting his nomination for president by the democratic party. If those two events don’t inspire you, I can’t imagine what would. I was not happy to hear Obama say that “climate change is not a hoax,” nor would I be happy to hear him say that the periodic table of elements is not a hoax. I would hope that the argument is a little further along by now.
In any case, it’s all great television, and I really mean that. I’m not being ironic or sarcastic. However, that is not to say that such powerful political and artistic performances fail to keep Macbeth from ringing in my ears.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The Heartland Institute is a free-market think-tank, and one of its biggest projects is undermining climate science. When IPCC climate scientists had emails stolen in the Climategate incident of 2009, Heartland expressed joy, saying something about how the release of those stolen documents should make people who believe in climate change reconsider (indeed, abandon) their position. Now, the tables have turned, and Heartland has had some of its documents stolen and released. According to one article, Heartland is making this out to be an issue of “common decency and journalistic ethics,” a red herring to draw attention away from the contents of the stolen documents. A piece in the Guardian sums up the contents of the stolen documents:
The papers indicate that discrediting established climate science remains a core mission of the organisation, which has received support from a network of wealthy individuals – including the Koch oil billionaires as well as corporations such as Microsoft and RJR Tobacco.
The documents confirm what environmental groups such as Greenpeace have long suspected: that Heartland itself is a major source of funding to a network of experts and bloggers who have been prominent in the campaign to discredit established science.
This seems like a perfect opportunity for political leaders to remind people that climate change is real and that it requires real changes to our policies, institutions, lifestyles, etc. However, that is precisely not what the Obama administration is doing. In fact, the phrases “climate change” and “global warming” are uttered increasingly less by Obama. As the State of the Union address indicated, climate change is being replaced by “clean energy.” Luckily, since it’s clean, nobody has to worry about how much of it we’re using. The loss of the phrase “climate change” is a bad move rhetorically, politically, scientifically…. it’s a bad move.
How do you get people in Michigan to care about climate change? Let them know that the Buckeyes are coming.
The USDA has updated their Plant Hardlines Zone Map for the first time in over a decade. It’s the map that indicates what plants can grow in which regions of the country. Ann Arbor has moved from zone 5 to the warmer zone 6, which is the zone in which the Ohio buckeye tree grows.
Football is far from irrelevant to environmental ethics and policy. That’s funny, but it’s also true.