Friday, February 10, 2012

Dried up, drowned out

Climate change is a moral issue.

The lifestyles of (most of) the richest 10% or so of the globe comprise the vast majority of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. This includes anyone with an annual income above about £10,000. These extra emissions are raising CO2 levels, thereby creating a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, legacy for countless generations to come. Carbon dioxide continues to affect climate for thousands of years. Our actions are significantly decreasing the habitability of the planet for humans and presently existing ecosystems. The ones who suffer the most are those who have done least to contribute: the poor, the young and unborn, and other species. Given that we've known about this issue for decades, there is really little excuse for continuing to pass the buck to those who come after or indulging in delay while we hope for a techno-fix to appear. The basic atmospheric chemistry was grasped in the 19th century; since the 1950s we've suspected a problem; since the 1970s we've had a pretty good idea that it was likely a problem; since the 1980s we've had solid evidence; since the 1990s, alarming evidence; and over the last decade the outlook has only grown bleaker.

We enjoy unnecessary luxuries at the cost of others' suffering, livelihoods and lives. That's a moral problem. Another way is possible. Let us embrace it with joy.


Anonymous said...

You know what's worse Byron? What's way worse is being poor as hell and starving. Your such a twit. I have a hard time believing that someone would write such an idiotic post. So what's your solution? Anyone can complain.

byron smith said...

Dear Anonymous, thanks for the drive-by insult, complete with poor grammar. But let's take your comment (minus insult) at face value.

Worse than the destruction of a habitable climate? Actually, loss of a habitable climate is highly likely to make many more people poor as hell and starving. The alternative to wastefully extravagant lifestyles is not starvation, but joyfully embracing less.

I have repeatedly said that the pursuit of climate and ecological responsibility is not incompatible with the pursuit of eliminating stupid/absolute poverty. Indeed, the two must go together for either to be effective. This is precisely what Tearfund are arguing, and I note that a new Oxfam publication makes the same point:

"Providing the additional calories needed by the 13 per cent of the world’s population facing hunger would require just 1 per cent of the current global food supply. [...] Bringing electricity to the 19 per cent of the world’s population who currently lack it could be achieved with less than a 1 per cent increase in global CO2 emissions. [...] Ending income poverty for the 21 per cent of the global population who live on less than $1.25 a day would require just 0.2 per cent of global income. In fact, the biggest source of planetary-boundary stress today is excessive resource consumption by roughly the wealthiest 10 per cent of the world’s population, and the production patterns of the companies producing the goods and services that they buy [...] Around 50 per cent of global carbon emissions are generated by just 11 per cent of people".

It is quite possible for seven billion (and more) to live flourishing lives without undermining the ecological conditions of possibility for stable human society and a healthy biosphere. But it requires very significant changes in our attitudes and behaviour. Are such changes possible in the timeframe available? Yes, because repentance is always possible. Are they likely? No, which is why I am currently working on a PhD that assumes we are probably not going to avoid continuing on our present path of global self-harm and so tries to articulate (part of) a Christian vision of ethical responsibility within such a world.

The Red Pill said...

Thank you for writing this. This IS a moral issue and yes, it is possible to live in harmony with nature. There is NOTHING natural about the way we currently live. We do need to change our thinking, attitudes and behaviour. The person who called you a twit? I think they were projecting ;)