30 - The moral and political challenges of climate change  pp. 475-482

The moral and political challenges of climate change

By Dale Jamieson

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Climate change presents us with a complex moral problem that our current political system is not well suited to address. Thus, it should not be surprising that we are failing to address it. In fact, climate change presents us with several distinct challenges. The first and most obvious involves coping with the changing climate itself. For societies that are not well adapted to normal climate variability in the first place, the more frequent and extreme events produced by climate change will be devastating. These effects will ramify through their economic, social, and political systems, spreading out into the international order. In addition, much of what we value about non-human nature will be lost since the clock of evolutionary adaptation runs much more slowly than that of human-caused environmental change. These are the kinds of problems that we can expect to face on the relatively optimistic scenario that the shifts in the earth system caused by climate change will be relatively moderate. Should major ocean or atmospheric circulations fail or sea levels rise catastrophically, the whole idea of adaptation will seem “quaint” at best.

Climate change as a moral problem

While the challenge of coping with a changing climate is daunting, it is one that is widely recognized and discussed. The moral and political challenges of climate change are relatively neglected. Climate change is a dramatic challenge to our moral consciousness, but it is not often perceived this way because it lacks some of the characteristics of a paradigm moral problem.

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