The Calm Before the Storms: Intro to Climate Change and Gardner Overview, James Cousins, Leighton Kessner Brittney Stuart, Kayla Witherspoon
The Perfect Storm to the south of Nova Scotia on October 30, 1991. From wikimedia.
Air pollution and the overall issue of climate change have rapidly gained prominence as a global issue, with their own numerous derived issues. Issues like identifying the ethics involved, getting environmental policies implemented in vastly different nations, and how we even view the problem of air pollution. The first point is where Paul Steidlmeir argues that a way of valuing the environment with ethics rather than economics needs to be found. (Earthcare, pg. 326) The second is something that may appear like progress has been made, with agreements like Kyoto and Bali. But, the worst polluters--India and China--have been exempted from their limitations, and global warming growth levels have already surpassed earlier worst-case scenarios. In the last case, we have people like William Baxter who think we should consider the effects of environmental pollution strictly from a human point of view. (Earthcare).
Stephen Gardiner’s paper ‘A Perfect Moral Storm’ is about the sheer difficulty of identifying any sort of ethical environmental policies due to Global, Intergenerational, and Theoretical concerns coming together to threaten our ability to morally act when making said policies. Gardner makes a point to specifically label decisions on what constitutes an environmental threat a value judgment as much as a scientific one, using a 2001 statement from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Gardner, pg. 347). Gardiner also makes the point that we cannot talk about environment, or how our behavior towards the environment affects other interests, without going into ethics. Gardiner takes the term ‘perfect storm’ from the story of the Andrea Gail fishing boat and its subsequent literary/cinematic adaptations. The boat is caught by three storms converging atop it, so Gardner finds it a good analogy for the three salient problems of the globalization involved, the fragmentation of cause/effect over multiple generations, and a general confusion over environmental values combining to create a ‘super-storm’ of corruption in moral environmental decision making (Gardner, pg. 348).
The Global Storm
Climate change is not just an issue for some people, but all people. There is no single country to blame for the fast progression of climate change because each gas emitted affects the entire world, not just the local area from which is comes from. Gardiner clearly states that climate change is not caused by “a single agent,” but many people refuse to believe that it is their own responsibility to ensure the environments safety, as well as their own. Some countries believe that it is their duty to instill changes in their ways to help reduce the negative effects of climate change, while others simply go about their business and do not recognize the destruction they are causing the environment, as well as their people. Since there is not overruling government for the world, it is very difficult to change and implement certain ideas to relieve or eliminate the negative effects people are causing on climate change. If there were a government overseeing the entire world, it would be collectively rational for each country and person to cooperate and find a solution, in this case, to combat climate change (Gardner, 349). Unfortunately, our world is highly separated on many issues--climate change being one of several. Some countries are exceeding and leading in ideas to improve climate change, while others do not see the issue as being significant at this time. This idea can be referred to as individual rationality, which means that each country has the opportunity to either battle against climate change or decide that the issue is not as important (Gardner, 349). Some countries that are involved in attempting to reduce emissions and help climate change include, but are not limited to, Australia, Indonesia, Germany, Japan, and Russia. For example, Australia’s goal nationwide is to decrease greenhouse gases by five percent before 2020. There are still many countries that are not necessarily on board or have a set goal for reducing emissions and helping climate change include, but are not limited to, the United States of America, India, and China. The United States attempted to pass a cap-and-trade bill to lower emissions by 17 percent by 2020, but the bill was not passed and there have been no further efforts since then. All in all, there will need to be a collective effort made by many countries in order to fully shrink the about of emissions in the air and change the current climate.
The Intergenerational Storm
While the Global storm glosses over the world wide perspective,the Intergenerational storm deals more from the perspective of time and how past and future generations will and have affected climate change. This storm will be more human-centered than anything else. This is a “lagged phenomenon” because what we are discovering from the greenhouse effect and the rising sea levels have taken a long time and will continue to take a while until they can be realized at a full capacity (Gardner 351). There is also the fact that human beings emit the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, which can spend a surprisingly long time in the atmosphere. Now as interesting as it sounds to know the carbon dioxide you breathe will be in the air for generations to come, it’s not a good thing. Carbon dioxide can take hundreds of years to actually neutralize, which is where the lagging idea comes from. Nonetheless, roughly a quarter of all the carbon dioxide emitted will actually stay in the atmosphere forever. The fact that carbon dioxide is such a long-living gas implies three things: this is a resilient phenomenon, the climate is severely impacted by backloading, and being backloaded implies that we won’t know the damage until it is too late in the future. The first implication is saying that the amount of carbon dioxide can’t simply be reversed, and there are not too many sound ideas that would make complete sense at the moment. Scientists have been looking into the possibility of burying the carbon dioxide in the ground, but since there is so much; it’s not as simple as a dog burying his bone. This will take a lot of advanced planning to make it feasible. The last implication is purely timing, these effects of the emissions we are accumulating now will not be realized until the future. This all comes down to describing procrastination in a nutshell. We are so used and accustomed to an excessive and luxurious lifestyle, we will not do what needs to be done until it is too late and at that point our future generations will have already been destined to suffer. Now even though we have come to that realization already, it is not a popular reality and people will just choose to ignore it until it becomes overwhelmingly true. This is the reality because we rely on the idea that countries will adequately be able to predict and represent the interests of both the citizens now and those of the future. In the long run, which most don’t realize, we're not just giving the same problem to the next generation, but also rather making it worse for the generations to come. What we need to realize is that, even though the storm known as climate change will not be avoidable, there is a way that we can make it easier/less sufferable for generations to come.
Theoretical Storm/Moral Corruption
Gardiner states that the theoretical storm is our ineptitude to deal with many problems characteristic of the long-term future (Gardiner, 355). What this means is that even if we try to solve the issue of climate change, we don’t know how our actions are going to impact future generations. We perceive this as justification to make no effort at all. However, we do have a moral obligation to make a change, in order to make the suffering a little easier for generations, as stated above.
However, the small efforts that we make are not really enough. The laws, restrictions, and suggestions we put into place are hardly more than to make ourselves feel better. For example, the Clean Air Act of 1970 was put into place, and then had to be extended twice. The guidelines were not being met, making the act fairly useless for almost 20 years (epa.gov). It is also a very misleading act, because as Baxter pointed out, “clean air” is a misleading term in itself, for 2 main reasons. First of all, who is to say what “clean” air really is, and secondly, we have done so much irreversible damage to the air already, that we can never never undo, so no one can say how clean “clean air” is (Baxter, 334). We would have to sit and make large reforms to the way we do things for our environmental acts to make a real difference and slow the damage.
Why are we so against making any large reforms? We are so human-centric, anything that does not have an immediate negative effect on us we are willing to ignore. Whatever is cheapest and easiest is what we tend to focus on, and any sort of major reform will take a lot of time and energy to take effect, and the benefits won’t be seen for so long that we act like it isn’t worth it, although it most definitely is. The small changes we make that can have an immediate effect are not enough to have any long-term significance. Another reason we have a hard time changing our habits is we don’t know the true impact we have on this earth, and the consequences of our action are hard to determine. This gives us a false sense of security. One last reason that we are so reluctant to make any real reform is because many have an attitude of “the damage is already done” so there is no reason to attempt to delay what they perceive as inevitable. These reasons are flawed, and are used as excuses to not make a difference.
We have a lot of hard choices to make in order to overcome this “theoretical storm,” and it starts with us recognizing that we are indeed harming our environment, and that changes need to happen to have a sustainable life. If we can overcome this, we can be on our way to actual climate reformation.
Smog over Los Angeles