There are at least two key omissions in John Broome’s “The Ethics of Climate Change” (Scientific American, June 2006). One is about the uncertainties of predicting the future. The other concerns the unethical stance of considering Climate Change as purely a collection of negatives.
(1) There are many things we do not know about future climate. The IPCC itself is not in the business of predicting anything, rather of working on projections of where the global climate may be heading to, for those variable that we can compute. There are other variables involved, that are not captured by climate models (for example, of course volcanoes cannot be foretold). In other words, there is no way to know what the climate of 2058 or 2108 will actually be.
There is no trace of such uncertainty in Broome’s discourse. I would go as far as to say, Prof. Broome completely disregards the concept of risk management.
And so we are told at some point that we should take a “temporally impartial” stance, that is the death of a child today is as important as the death of a child in 100 years’ time (Broome rather unethically recommends to read his books to find out why).
But a child dying today is a certainty, whilst little can be said about children decades in the future: their very lives, and their deaths are a matter of probabilities. And surely the longer we try to see in the future, the fewer the chances of getting those probabilities right.
A Victorian scientist would have had no idea of how many children would survive today into adulthood. To claim that we are better today at seeing the XXII century is truly preposterous.
(2) As many sad articles about Climate Change, Broome’s is a collection of negatives.
Now, does one have to be a philosopher to understand that, as in almost everything else, in climate matters too there are positives and negatives whatever happens? Because the alternative would be, to consider a cooling world as a collection of positives…
We are told for example of how many deaths and disasters will Climate Change bring. Is Prof Broome aware of the fact that heat waves kill the already-dying, whilst cold waves simply kill? Death rates get below average at the end of a heat wave: they only get back to normal at the end of a cold wave.
Where are the people whose lives will be saved by an increase in global temperature? Certainly nowhere to be seen or taken care of in Broome’s article. And why not? Are some deaths more equal than others?
WIll people matter if they die because of heat, and matter less or not at all if they die because of cold?
Until such huge reasoning and moral gaps are not filled up properly, I will say thank you, but no thank you, I don’t need your ethical lessons, Prof. Broome.