Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a Warming World / James Garvey –- N.Y.: Continuum Books, 2008

Of all the books I read my first semester as a graduate student, The Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a Warming World was my favorite. Although Garvey takes up perhaps too many words of his introduction assuring his readers that philosophy is not overly abstruse, in this short (158 page) volume, he successfully lays out background information and provides eloquent arguments on the ethics of climate change. The arguments are developed systematically, from a simple notion of causal responsibility, to more nuanced questions, for example, what obligations one has in the absence of action from others. The book ends evaluating the international response to climate change in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol and addressing the potential of individual actions. While not a rousing call, Garvey does offer more impetus to action than I had expected from a philosophy book on climate change.

Two areas that were not adequately addressed were the questions of, Does futility obviate moral imperative? and Are moral arguments politically persuasive? Nonetheless, The Ethics of Climate Change is an excellent introduction to the topic. Much attention is paid to the science and economics of climate change, but the need to make the ethics of climate change politically persuasive may be the key to addressing the enormous challenge ahead.

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