"Much of what passes for even the most progressive discussion of climate change these days is devoted to persuading us that dealing with the problem will not be costly in terms of our current lifestyles, and so is compatible with ways of living that many take to be in their best interests. This is comforting talk, and I am hopeful that it may turn out to be substantially true. Still, it seems to me that this is the wrong discussion to be having. Our reasons for acting on climate change are not (or at least not primarily) that doing so will be good (or at least not bad) for us; they are deeper and more morally serious than that. In my view, seeing this should make it easier for us to act. To dither when one might prevent moderate harm to oneself by taking modest precautionary action is folly to be sure, but its moral import is limited. By contrast, to engage in willful self-deception and moral corruption when the lives of future generations, the world's poor, and even the basic fabric of life on the planet is at stake is a much more serious business. We should wake up to that fact, and demand more of our institutions, our leaders, and ourselves."
- Stephen Gardiner, A Perfect Moral Storm: The ethical tragedy of climate change (Oxford: OUP, 2011), 10-11.Much of the public discussion of climate policy (and most notably that surrounding the Australian government's proposal to put a very modest price on carbon) has focused upon the costs and benefits of action from the perspective of the commentator and those like him or her. Australia shouldn't hold back our coal-fired extractive economy (so the argument goes) when doing so will have virtually no appreciable difference in the global scheme of things, given the scale of Australia's contribution to the problem. Quite apart from the fallacies involved in thinking that Australian contributions are irrelevant (a post for another day), such thinking only considers the implications for us in Australia, during this generation, and for human society. Since the burden and threat of a more chaotic climate falls disproportionately on the poor, the young and unborn, and other species - three groups with the least political voice and almost zero responsibility for causing the issue in the first place - then our actions which contribute to that ought to be evaluated in a moral context, not merely an economic calculation of personal (or even national) costs and benefits. Doing so requires a degree of moral imagination, of seeing how our habitual actions are affecting those beyond the boundaries of our everyday vision, whose distance from us is measured in space, time or DNA.
Once such a vision has been engaged, then we immediately confronted with a question we cannot avoid. Are we really okay with asking those without a voice or responsibility to face the greatest dangers for the sake of our illusory dream of endless economic growth? Until we recognise climate change as a deeply moral issue that raises confronting questions about our identity and common humanity (and even of our membership with the broader community of life on earth), then we are merely playing a game. The game may have stakes conceived in either political or economic terms, but it is a game that comes at huge cost to others.