Henry Shue, “Gambling with Their Climate”

Henry Shue, “Gambling with Their Climate”


– It’s a pleasure to welcome
you to the 2017 Dewey Lecture in Law and
Philosophy, and we are very pleased and honored
to welcome Henry Shue, who is the Senior Research Fellow
at the Center of International Studies and Merton College
at the University of Oxford. And I will give him
an introduction. Professor Martha Nussbaum
will give him an induction. I just want to welcome
you, and to say a few words about the Lecture Series. The Lecture Series was
founded almost 30 years ago in honor of John Dewey. And Dewey’s connection to
the University of Chicago was very deep. From the university’s
inception in 1894 all the way through 1904, Dewey was the
chair of the university’s philosophy department,
and during that time he founded what came to
be known as the Chicago School of Pragmatism,
an intellectual movement that applied scientific
methods to societal problems. In addition, Dewey
created the University of Chicago’s laboratory
schools in 1896. Now, and moving forward
almost 100 years to 1981, when our then dean of law
school, Gerhard Casper, decided that the university,
and specifically the law school, should recognize Dewey’s
ties to the universities, and to his legal legacy,
and legal theory. So Dean Casper corresponded
with the philosopher Sidney Hook, who was then president
of the John Dewey Foundation, and inquired about
potentially establishing a lectureship in Dewey’s
name at the law school. Hook readily agreed, and
thus the Dewey lectureship in jurisprudence was created. And the lectureship has
a tremendous history. Many distinguished
philosophers have given it– Ronald Dworkin, Richard Rorty,
Amartya Sen, among others. In fact, John
Rawls’ famous paper, “The Idea of Public
Reason Revisited,” was a Dewey lecture, and was
published in our own law revue. So our law school was
founded on the idea that lawyers need to know
more than just legal doctrine or black letter law, that
the theoretical underpinnings of ideas of laws
and lawmaking are really crucial, and
indistinguishable from an effective legal education. So I’m very pleased
to welcome you all to the 2017 Dewey Lecture. And to introduce this year’s
distinguished lecture, I’m going to ask Martha
Nussbaum to do so. I’ll give her a very
brief introduction, because I was told not to give
a long introduction of Professor Nussbaum. She is the Ernst Freund
Distinguished Service Professor in Law and Ethics. She’s appointed both in the
law school and the department of philosophy. She’s an associate in
the classes department, in the divinity school, in the
political science department. She also serves as a
member of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies,
and is a board member of the Human Rights Program. She has received
numerous prizes. I will simply mention just
one of those most recently, the Kyoto Prize in
Arts and Philosophy. She has, I believe,
56 honorary degrees from universities
around the world. And she is the author and
editor of numerous books. Again, I won’t
mention all of them. I’ll just mention
the most recent one, Aging Thoughtfully
with Professors, who was just recently published. In fact, I think
just this month. So it is my pleasure to welcome,
to introduce our 2017 Dewey lecturer, Professor
Martha Nussbaum. [APPLAUSE] – Well, it’s a
very great pleasure to welcome Henry Shue to
deliver the 2017 Dewey Lecture. Shue is currently
senior research fellow at the Center for
International Studies, of the Department of
Politics and International Relations at Oxford
University, professor emeritus of Politics and
International Relations, and senior research fellow,
Emeritus and American College. Now, those who are familiar
with contemporary philosophical discussions of
justice will know Shue as one of the most
eloquent voices in the philosophical discussion
of global inequality, including poverty and hunger,
war, displacement, torture, nuclear deterrence and, most
recently, climate change and environmental ethics. I often hear people
in other fields, such as economics and
political science, speak of Shue as
the most convincing, rigorous, and helpful voice
coming out of philosophy. Someone who commands
the data, and then argues very clearly
and eloquently. His books, Basic Rights
and Climate Justice, are as highly respected
as they are widely read, and they’re now joined by his
2016 book, Fighting Hurt, Rule and Exception in
Torture And War. But those who are
not as old as I am will perhaps think that
philosophers have always been addressing these
urgent public issues. It’s just that Shue does
it exceptionally well. They will then be missing
a central aspect, I think, of Shue’s
contribution, which has been to put public political
philosophy in general, and global justice
in particular, on the issue of the
profession, and to create inter-disciplinary programs in
which philosophers can learn and exchange with others,
so that their work is truly pertinent to the problem. A founder of the Institute
for Philosophy and Public Policy at the
University of Maryland, which was a
pioneering, and still a very important institution– Shue then transferred his
institution building skills to Cornell University,
where he was professor of Ethics and Public Life
for a number of years, until he accepted the
professorship at Oxford. In all three universities
he shaped the institution and its conversations,
generating inter-disciplinary discussions
that didn’t exist before. And indeed, the whole
field of applied ethics was struggling for a long time,
and was held in some disdain by many high-brow philosophers,
with the partial exceptional of bioethics, which attained
respectability a little bit earlier. But now things are
really very different. Political philosophers ignore
global issues of peril, or irrelevance. And for young people
entering the field there’s no better paragon
of both how to write and how to cross disciplinary
boundaries while retaining philosophical rigor
than Henry Shue’s work. But Shue was also famous as
a teacher of the best sort– challenging, inspiring,
but also deeply humane and conscientious. I urge you later to
look up on Google an article in the magazine
called Ezra Magazine– it’s like the Cornell
Alumni magazine– by Jeffrey Gettleman,
who was then, when he wrote the article,
the East Africa Bureau Chief for the New York
Times, and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. He’s now the South
Asia Bureau Chief. And the article is entitled
A Professor’s Lasting Impact, and Gettleman describes
his experience walking into Shue’s class as,
quote, a hungover 19 year old with a dirty
Ohio State baseball cap, backwards, and greasy
locks hanging out. But, says, Gettleman,
he didn’t care. He enthusiastically
engaged students who took an interest
in his teaching, and would treat us
all as colleagues with valid arguments. He seemed to really
enjoy the back and forth, and he wanted to know
our ideas, end quote. Gettleman was aware that
Shue was a star in his field, but that never got in the way
of his dedication to teaching, and his deep interest
in students as people. He adds that Shue,
who he continues to visit every year in
Oxford, has a very keen sense of direction, and
is particularly good at walking through the
pouring rain in the Cotswold Hills, reading an ordinant
survey map held upside down. Well, we gave his keen
sense of direction, in order to grapple with one of
the most urgent ethical issues in our world. So it’s really great to welcome
Henry Shue to deliver the Dewey Lecture on Gambling With
Their Climate, Future Generations, Negative
Emissions, and Risk Transfers. [APPLAUSE] – That was an exceptionally,
although characteristically kind introduction from Martha. I’m afraid now,
if I say anything, my reputation can only suffer. But it is a great
honor, of course, to have the opportunity to
deliver a Dewey lecture, and I’m very grateful to Dean
Miles and Professor Nussbaum, and their colleagues
for inviting me. It’s always a pleasure to come
to the University of Chicago, and I have come
before, because you are this bastion of
respectful but vigorous intellectual encounter, which is
a model that our society sorely needs at the moment, when
it seems to be drifting into warring camps who seem
able only to avoid or abuse each other, rather than
rigorously and probingly talk to each other. So for all of these reasons,
I’m very grateful to be here. I want to explore the relation
between present day ambition to stop contributing to climate
change and the risk of danger for future generations. So this lecture will
be a normative analysis of the structure of
the risks created by any decision
about how ambitiously to mitigate the primary factor
forcing climate change– which, of course, is carbon dioxide. My three main theses are
first that all decisions about the degree of ambition
for emissions mitigation are unavoidably also decisions
about how to distribute risk across generations– and more specifically, second,
that the less ambitious the mitigation is,
the more inherently objectionable the resulting
intergenerational risk distribution is. And third, that mitigation
that is so lacking in ambition that it bequeaths risks
that remain unlimited when the risk could
have been limited without inordinate sacrifice
is especially objectionable, and constitutes a
failure to seize a glorious historic
opportunity that’s open to us. This normally structural
analysis of risk, then, has strong implications
for the standards by which national
implementation of the 2050– sorry, 2015 Paris
agreement ought to be assessed, an
issue that’s being discussed this week at the
Fiji Cup, located in Bonn. Mitigation is more
ambitious insofar as it contributes to reaching
zero emissions of carbon dioxide globally
at an earlier date, and therefore at
a lower level of cumulative atmospheric
concentration of carbon dioxide. The ambition of a national
commitment to mitigation refers not only to the extent
of the de-carbonization to be conducted within
a nation’s own borders, but also to the extent
of that same nation’s support for de-carbonization
to be carried out elsewhere. And these two things
together have aptly been called the dual
obligation for mitigation. A nation’s responsibility
for mitigation may exceed its economically
sensible capacity to reduce its own
domestic emissions. In that case, it
ought to provide financial or technological
transfers that make the reduction of
emissions elsewhere– sorry, that enable the
reduction of emissions elsewhere to the extent of
its own remaining unfulfilled responsibility to bring
about emissions reductions. So ambition in the
sense discussed combines a nation’s nationally
determined contribution, or NDC, to use the jargon
of the climate negotiations, regarding reduction of
its internal emissions with its financial and
technological commitments in support of reduction
of emissions elsewhere. How the ambition of
individual nations should be divided between
internal emissions reductions and
external emissions reductions may be heavily
dependent upon efficiency considerations, but
its total effort should reflect its national
responsibility, the extent of which, of course, has to
be argued for philosophically. Although that’s a separate
argument from the one I’m going to make now. Every risk, as Hermansson
and Hansson noted, involves, quote, “three roles. Namely, the risk exposed,
the decision maker, and the beneficiary,” end quote. The three roles may be occupied
respectively by one, two, or three parties. How the roles are
allocated among parties gives the risk what I’m
calling its structure. In the simplest
case, all three roles are occupied by the same
person, who chooses to gamble and receives the
benefits, or suffers the losses of the gamble. If instead, for example, the
decision maker is one party and a single other person is
both the possible beneficiary and the risk exposed, the
structure of the choice may be paternalistic. The legislature requires
motorcycle helmets, and cyclists both benefit
from greater safety and suffer the
loss of the thrill from the greater danger
of having no helmet. Or to see a different
structure, take the choice by a firm to externalize
the environmental costs of its operations. The firm is the decision maker
about how much to pollute, and it is itself the
beneficiary of the reduced costs relative to controlling
the pollution. While third parties
suffer from the risks created by the pollution. In this case the public is
used for pollution disposal in order to reduce production
costs for the firm. So the structure
is exploitative. Philosopher John Rawls called
attention to a simple situation for choice between
two alternatives, which I’ve modified
in important respects partly following Steve Gardner. Alternative A has
a high probability of producing a
satisfactory outcome. Alternative B has three
specific features. That it might produce trivial
relative gains compared to choice A. It might produce
significant relative losses compared to A. And
third, knowledge of the probability
that it might produce the trivial gains rather
than the significant losses, quoting Rawls, is impossible,
or at best extremely insecure. End quote. Obviously choosing
alternative B would be pragmatically imprudent. This alternative is
a very bad gamble, risking a substantial
loss for the sake of a trivial gain in
circumstances of uncertainty. The fundamental choice with
regard to climate change is how ambitious to
be about litigation. About when to bring
carbon emissions to zero globally, and leave
behind the era of fossil fuels, the extraction and transport
of which pollutes land, water, and air, and the
combustion of which pollutes the air
in multiple ways, and specifically through the
release of carbon dioxide, undermines the climate to
which humans and other living things have adapted. While a few of the national
mitigation pledges– the nationally determined
contributions, are NDCsm made in Paris in 2015– may have been adequate tentative
first steps, most of the NDCs ranged in ambition from the
merely minimal to the paltry. As people think of
generations, at any given time three generations are alive– grandparents,
parents, and children. I’ll refer to these
three together simply as the current generations. More ambitious
mitigation would clearly impose some costs
on some segments of the current generations. Nevertheless, insofar
as contemporaries have fair distributive
mechanisms, lives in current
generations would not need to be overall less
satisfactory because of ambitious mitigation
than they would have been without ambitious mitigation. If any necessary
sacrifices for the sake of ambitious mitigation
are shared fairly, and this fairness is
a crucial assumption, all lives in the
current generation could remain as satisfactory as
they otherwise would have been. It won’t fix anything, but
it needn’t make it worse. On the assumptions
just sketched, we can compare the situation
of current generations taken together with the situation
of the individual, discussed by Rawls. Like that individual,
current generations must choose between two
options, in this case two tendencies in mitigation–
more ambitious and less ambitious. More ambitious mitigation
by current generations with fairer institutions could
allow no less satisfactory outcomes for everyone. On the other hand to the
extent that mitigation was less ambitious, it would
tend to have three features. First, it might produce
trivial relative gains compared to more
ambitious mitigation by avoiding some expense,
effort, and disruption. Second, it might produce
significant relative losses compared to more
ambitious mitigation by postponing the
date of zero carbon, and thereby allowing climate
change to become worse than it would have if
mitigation were more ambitious. And three, knowledge
of a probability that it might produce the
trivial gains, but not the significant losses– quoting Rawls again–
is impossible, or at best extremely insecure. David Weisbach
has described what I take to be the same gamble
between more and less ambitious mitigation as follows. Quote, uncertainty about the
effects of climate change strengthens these conclusions
because the uncertainty is not symmetric. If we do nothing,
or act too slowly, the bad cases, if things
turn out worse than expected, are far worse than the good
cases are good if things turn out better than expected. End quote. So the gamble on less
ambitious mitigation is clearly at least
as bad a gamble as the paradigm
imprudent gamble that could have been taken by
the individual described at the start, following Rawls. And the less ambitious
the mitigation, the worse the
gamble other things equal, because the longer the
period during which climate change can grow worse, or
even become catastrophic. The alternatives in
the Rawlsian case and the alternatives and
the climate change case are not perfectly parallel. Rawls simply compares
two fixed alternatives, A and B. Mitigation
involves degrees, relatively more ambitious
and relatively less ambitious mitigation. But a comparison reveals two
other monumentally morally important differences between
the structures of these two gambles. In the Rawlsian case, first,
the possible gains or losses would go to the same individual. And second, the recipient of
the possible gains and losses is the person who decides
whether to take the bad gamble. In contrast, in the
mitigation case, the possible gains and
losses would go respectively to different generations. The gains would go to
current generations, who would avoid whatever expense,
effort, or disruption would be involved in speeding up the
energy transition through more ambitious mitigation,
but the losses would go to future
generations, who would suffer whatever
consequences resulted from worsening climate
change occurring during the additional time
prior to zero carbon emissions made available by the
less ambitious mitigation. So first, the mitigation gamble
is possible gains for us, possible losses for them. And second, the decision whether
to take the mitigation gamble is entirely in the hands of the
generations who can only gain. Current generations. The potential winners
have all the power, while the future generations,
who can only lose, have no say whatsoever. The potential losers
have no power. These two differences turn
what was already a bad gamble into a genuinely
awful gamble, in which for the sake of
possible small gains, the current generations
impose upon future generations whatever losses might result
from climate change worsened by a half hearted mitigation. And this objectionable
structure would be present even if we had no
reason to think that losses for
future generations were specially likely,
or especially severe. A topic to which I’ll return. In the instance of the choice
between less ambitious and more ambitious mitigation, the three
roles that every risk involves are occupied by only
two parties, then. One party, the current
generations taken together, is both decision maker
and potential beneficiary. The risk exposed is
every future generation. This is why decisions
on mitigation are decisions on
risk distribution across generations. This structure, in which one
party decides and potentially benefits itself while another
party is risk exposed, is exploitative. The decision maker
uses the risk exposed as a means of potential benefit
to the decision maker itself. This exploitative structure
is exactly the same as the structure of the choice
by a firm to externalize the costs of its pollution. Less ambitious
mitigation externalizes risks from current generations
to future generations in order to save us moderate
costs and inconvenience. This much is clear simply from
the structure of the mitigation gamble. Now, what about severity? We have perfectly ordinary
and obvious reasons why action to stop climate
change from worsening is urgent. Because the political
change needed in order to reach zero carbon
is wide and deep, and will therefore take time. We simply cannot
speed up too soon. Breaking carbon
emissions to net zero it’s not a matter
merely of changing from one technology to another,
like canceling your cable TV and switching to Netflix, or
unscrewing incandescent bulbs and inserting LEDs. At bottom we do need to change
from carbon based energy to carbon free energy, but
marketing carbon based energy is the source of wealth for what
is arguably the most powerful complex of multinational
institutions in the world, with tentacles that reach deep
into our main political and economic structures,
and cling tightly. Many of the largest fossil
fuel companies are state owned. Saudi Arabia’s Saudi
Aramco, Russia’s Gazprom, the National Iranian oil
Company, Petrol China and Coal India, for example. And the investor
owned firms are huge. Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP,
Shell, and Total, for example. BP and Gazprom are interlinked,
as are other state owned and investor owned firms. Then there are the supertanker
fleets, the refineries, the liquefied natural gas
facilities, the pipelines, the coal cars, and
the banks, which have loaned the capital for
the industry’s infrastructure, and are waiting to be repaid. And the lobbyists– PR
firms, kept think tanks, kept intellectuals,
and front organizations who tell the lies. It goes without
saying that state owned companies
are deeply embedded in the political and
economic institutions of powerful nations, but so are
the investor owned companies, on whose campaign
contributions many a senator and
representative is dependent. Public funds gush into
the coffers of fossil fuel companies as subsidies. Global government subsidies in
2015 were estimated by the IMF be $5.3 trillion, which is 6.5%
of the global economic product perversely wasted on
fossil fuel subsidies, more than the world’s total
expenditure on public health. The US government handed over
$600 billion from US taxpayers to fossil fuel firms in 2015. And this, of course, is
prior to the Trump regime. This massive web of vested,
interlocked interests in wealth and power
will take a while to undermine and disentangle. These are profoundly
recalcitrant institutions. The moral seems obvious. Since this is difficult and will
take a while but must be done, we need to get
started aggressively. This requires more than
allowing the market to accept non-carbon energy
at its own admittedly quickening pace. We must also, for example, get
infrastructure for non-carbon energy production and
transmission into developing nations who cannot afford both
to adapt to the destructive climate changes that
already threaten them, and to construct new energy
infrastructure so that their struggle to
develop doesn’t lock them into the infrastructure of the
carbon energy regime that needs to die. So we need positive social
action internationally. The longer it takes to put a lid
on damage from climate change, the more that
societies will have to devote to cleaning up
after escalating damage from worsening climate. This is especially true
for poorer countries, whose structures
and infrastructures are less resilient
to begin with. Poorer countries and
territories suffer more damage from the same
climate events that do less damage to
richer countries, as we’ve recently seen once
again in the hurricanes. If climate continues
to get worse, poorer countries will
need to spent more to adapt to current threats. That is to try to prevent
future damage, leaving still less for emissions reduction. So both spending more for
repairing past damage, and more for trying to
prevent future damage will create the vicious
circle that there’s less for mitigation and
for the energy transition, and so there will be
more damage in future unless others act to assist
with simultaneous energy transition and adaptation
to damage already occurring. Now, I think all of
this that I’ve just said constitutes a strong case
for the urgency of action, and may be strong
enough, but I’d like to explore one
additional reason that I think is more interesting. That’s grounded in
the unboundedness of climate change. The most elementary
advice usually given to someone who plans to
visit a gambling casino is decide while
you’re still at home how much is the
maximum amount you can afford to lose, and take
only that much with you. In other words, put a firm
limit on maximum losses. Those who opt for less
ambitious mitigation than is readily
possible are ignoring this basic advice with
regard to future generations. They are leaving the
door through which dangers of unknown magnified
for future generations can enter open for longer than
it would need to remain open. They are leaving
potential losses for people in the
future unbounded. It’s well-established
that as long as the atmospheric
concentration of greenhouse gases, and especially carbon
dioxide continues to climate, change will continue
to become more severe. And as long as carbon
dioxide is emitted in amounts that
produce net additions to the atmospheric
concentration, the concentration
will, of course, continue to expand accordingly. Until global carbon
emissions reach net zero, no outer limit on the max
severity of climate change has been set. The severity of climate
change can worsen indefinitely until carbon
emissions reach zero, and then go down from there. Deep carbonization must
be thorough and prompt in order to cap the atmospheric
concentration, which requires more ambitious mitigation. The less ambitious
mitigation is, the later the date that the atmospheric
accumulation will stabilize, the longer that climate
change remains unbounded, and the costs of the mitigation
gamble have no limit. This is a special
kind of danger. Less obvious, and difficult
to judge judiciously. Human beings at their
best are inexpressibly remarkable with their
indomitable spirits, and their unrelenting
resilience. I don’t generally recommend
betting against the human race, and yet human civilisation
can be surprisingly fragile. Remember the armed looters in
the British Virgin Islands? In St. Martin, after
Hurricane Irma in September? Stealing food and water
from their neighbors, as often happens
after disasters. Recall Golding’s
Lord of the Flies, and Zimbardo’s experiment,
in which his Stanford undergraduates, randomly
assigned to roleplay prison guards, quickly
started force feeding their classmates, who’d been
assigned to play prisoners, when the prisoners protested
earlier rough treatment by fasting, frightening
Zimbardo into abandoning the experiment very early. Remember how quickly the
Hungarian government fenced out the Syrian refugees a
couple of summers ago. Somewhere in the
shadows of stress, the social norms begin to tear. Partly because human individuals
often do, indeed, not give up. That physical stresses lead to
conflicting political demands, and conflicting
political demands can lead to tears in the social
fabric is hardly a new insight. One may have supposed that
Thomas Hobbes was displaying a capacity for
dystopian imagination when he wrote, quote, there
is no place for industry because the fruit
thereof is uncertain, and consequently no
culture of the Earth. No navigation or use
of the commodities that may be imported by sea, no
commodious building, no arts, no letters, no society. And, which is worst of all,
continual fear and danger of violent death. And the life of man– solitary, poor, nasty,
brutish, and short. End quote. But according to
Jeffrey Parker’s monumental Global History,
Global Crisis, War, Climate Change, and Catastrophe
in the 17th Century, Hobbes actually didn’t
need to imagine anything. He needed only to look around
at the state of the world, and what we have now realized
was the Little Ice Age, roughly the 1640s to the 1690s. The Little Ice Age
consisted of climate change of only a single degree of
the average global temperature down rather than up, of course. But this modest bit
of climate change, and especially the
resultant disturbances to agricultural production
and food prices, were one side of what
Parker aptly called a fatal synergy that was
an exacerbating factor in a global smorgasbord of
troubles ranging from the 30 Years’ War in Europe to
the violent Ming Qing transition in China. Long before large numbers
of individual people would collapse from heat
stress from global warming, their societies would be liable
at some unpredictable point to become unable to summon
farsightedness, fairness, or even cooperation, and
liable to disintegrate in conflicts over places to
live, and places to grow food. And over priorities for the
distribution of these places. Now let me try to be clear,
what I’m not suggesting. It’s, in common recent
decades, almost a tradition among moral philosophers
talking about climate change to say that the apocalypse
is around the corner. I don’t think the apocalypse
is around the corner, nor is human extinction. Nor, for that matter even,
is the Hobbesian unraveling of civilization
that I’ve invoked. I’m appealing only
to the solid fact that all these threatening
possibilities, and many others less serious than these,
but still serious, remain available until we
stop feeding climate change and making it grow. Everything is possible
until we make it impossible. A climate that is
worsening indefinitely leaves all the bad options open. We’ve inadvertently
opened the barn door, and some of the
horses have bolted. But other valuable horses,
for reasons of their own, have lingered in the barn. For now, nothing is stopping
them from leaving, too. It’s time, then, to
re-lock the barn door. But someone may object, that a
rapid transition to zero carbon is too demanding to be
reasonable to expect. More than current generations
can be asked to do. My third thesis is that the
risks for future generations ought not to be left unlimited
when these risks can be limited without inordinate sacrifice. But this is vague,
and indeterminate. How can we get some grip on
when a generational sacrifice is in ordinates? Ordinarily when we
think about principles of generational
justice, we assume that there’s a kind
of standard formula that can be applied
repetitively. Rawls said that when we’re
thinking about what principles should guide current generations
to future generations, we should ask what principles
we wish past generations had abided by with regard to us. So the past generations should
have done such and such for us, and the current generation
should similarly do the same for future generations. But there’s a slippery
and intriguing problem that’s relevant to
our subject of placing a limit on maximum risk. What if some generations
are called upon to make sacrifices that
are unique to them? That do not fit any
standard formula? Could this be? The climate scientists
are telling us that we are now at an
utterly crucial juncture. For a century and a
half, carbon emissions were steadily climbing. Then, for the last
three decades, a sword– half of all the emissions since
1850 have occurred since 1986. During the lifetime of
any grad students here. But for the last
two or three years, total global emissions have
on the whole leveled off. It’s possible that we’ve
reached peak global emissions at a very high peak, because
of all of the emissions since 1986. But now we must, as
the scientists put it, bend the emissions
curve downward. That is begin the steady
decline in emissions at an angle across
time that will bring the world to net zero
carbon in two or three decades. Certainly within
the middle years of the lives of all of
you, who are students. Otherwise, the only way to
hold total cumulative emissions to any total compatible with
any remotely tolerable amount of temperature rise, and other
manifestations of climate change, would be a
later precipitous plunge in emissions that
could only be either politically and economically
impossible or utterly catastrophic. So the choices are a steady
decline in emissions starting now, an unmanageable
collapse in emissions later, or dangerous levels of
climate change from too much accumulated carbon dioxide. I’m of course omitting
all the shading in this picture, a little bit of
which I’ll return to presently, but this is the general outline. Any way you slice
it, it is absolutely crucial what current
generations– you– do now. My age group and I
dropped the ball, but you can still pick it up. But later will be too late. This is it. We face what Martin
Luther King Jr. called the fierce urgency of now. But surely you think, now
I am getting carried away. This must too much of
current generations, each member of which is living
the only life she will ever live. How, as Churchill might
say, could so much be asked of so few? Isn’t the burden of bringing
about the global energy revolution too heavy to expect
current generations alone to bear? This is difficult to think
about in a sensible way. In a way, it does seem
unfair that the challenge for the current generations
is so much greater than what we might call the average burden
for the average generation. But what says that the
benefits and burdens ought to be equal across generations? Or anyway, that if your burden
would be heavier than average, you don’t have to carry it? That would be an oddly
a-historical way of thinking. Perhaps the illusion to
Churchill provides a hint. Was it fair that the
so-called greatest generation of the 1940s had to
confront the Nazis? Wouldn’t it have been fairer if
the task could have been shared with, say, the people
of the laid back ’60s, when I was military age? But the people of
the ’60s could have helped to defeat the Nazis
only if the Nazis were still in power in the ’60s,
presumably by then entrenched. It’s a good thing
for the rest of us that the generations of the
’40s rose to the occasion. And we remember them proudly. The point of these
rather strange musings is that while reasonable
sacrifices certainly have some limit, that
limit seems to have nothing to do with any notion of
standard generational burdens, a notion that seems
to lead nowhere. For better or for worse,
you live when you live. You confront what you confront. You can embrace it or reject it. You’re free in your
response, but that response will have the effects
that such a response has in such circumstances at
that point in history. You choose your
response, but history, made by the earlier responses of
others to their circumstances, provides your circumstances. The people of the ’60s could
not help with the battles of the 1940s because one
cannot reach backwards through history. The Hubble telescope can show us
what happened millions of years ago, but it does not enable
us to reach back and change the universe’s course. For purposes of human
action, time for us, history moves only forward. One cannot reach back
to bring about change, but one can reach forward, In fact, one cannot
avoid reaching forward. It’s not that we could
decide if we wished to reach forward
and change history, as if history were
somehow already going to go in one direction until we
reached forward and diverted it into a different direction from
the one it had originally set. We are making the
future, like it or not. It will be what
we make it to be. More precisely,
its starting place will be where we leave off. History is a continuing drama,
with narrative threads running through many generations. And if we allow
climate change to grow by unknown increments
of severity for an unspecified
further period, the burdens that fall upon
some future generations may vastly exceed the
burdens that we face now. For example, arranging
for cooperation then, if social
norms have tattered, will be much harder than
arranging for cooperation now, as hard as that actually is. We leave those
future generations to a much heavier burden
because we refused to bear a much lighter one. How severe their
challenges will become depends on what we do now. If we don’t shoulder
our lighter burdens, their burdens will be heavier
because of our inaction. Perhaps we should draw
a line under the worst that climate change can do? It may be objected,
however, that I am ignoring relevant
technological innovations. There’s no such thing as finally
setting the severity of climate change, it will be said,
because any total atmospheric accumulation of carbon dioxide
can subsequently be reduced. If there is
overshoot, this can be corrected by negative emissions,
or carbon dioxide removal. The great majority
of the IPCC scenarios that provide for the rise in
average global temperature to be kept 2 degrees
centigrade, or not to mention 1.5
centigrade, rely precisely on such a recovery
from an overshoot in cumulative emissions,
thanks to one or more kinds of carbon dioxide removal. But I want to suggest that
carbon dioxide removal is not a miracle cure for half
hearted mitigation. It may be reasonable
for modelers to examine alternative
scenarios employing various types of carbon
dioxide removal deployed at different future dates,
and with different degrees of ambition. My concern about the
modelers is how clearly they indicate the assumptions
underlying their calculations, especially their assumptions
about the feasibility of most of these technologies,
few of which are proven. The main danger concerns
are the conclusions that may be drawn from the
modelers’ imagined scenarios for the appropriate level
of ambition for mitigation by policymakers– either unwary or ill-informed
policymakers, or policy makers pressured by lobbyists
for fossil fuel interests and reluctant to give up
large campaign contributions. My thesis now is
that it would be a fatal error as a
matter of public policy to relax mitigation from the
most ambitious possible level because of a
misguided confidence in what may be able to be
accomplished by way of recovery from an overshoot through
carbon dioxide removal. That is the ambition
of actual mitigation now ought not to be reduced
on the basis of reliance on assumed later
negative emissions. Here’s why. That it might be safe to
rely on a subsequent recovery from excessive emissions
is dubious for a number of quite different reasons,
including serious grounds for doubting the feasibility
of the technologies at sufficient scale. Afforestation, for instance,
is a proven technology for removing carbon
dioxide, and we certainly need to plant vast
additional numbers of trees, as well as protecting
existing forests. But we can’t spare enough land
and water for enough trees– at least, not until
most people choose vegetarian diets,
which would free up vast amounts of land and
water now devoted to growing feed for livestock production. And the same is true– the same problem
about land and water– for the modelers’ favorite
technology, BECCS– bioenergy with carbon
capture and transfer. Which, in order to produce a
significant reduction in carbon dioxide by itself, would
require land equivalent to one or two Indias, on
which to grow the feedstock for the combustion. But the failing of all carbon
dioxide removal technologies that I want to
especially notice today is the ratchet effect of passing
tipping points for climate during the initial,
even if temporary, process of overshoot. If some types of
carbon dioxide removal could be made to
work at global scale, then the atmospheric
accumulation of carbon dioxide can come down as well as go up. But if that accumulation, even
if it ultimately turns out to have been transitory itself,
drives some crucial factor affecting the climate past a
point of physical no return, that change in climate will be
permanent in spite of the fact that the overshoot
was temporary. And of course, temporary changes
can produce permanent effects. For example, the
cryogenic scientists who have concluded that the West
Antarctic ice sheet probably is now irreversibly
melting, think that the reason why the
melting is irreversible is that the crucial
Thwaites Glacier is a marine based ice sheet. That is, it rests on land,
but that land is under water. And as the land on
which the ice rests moves away from the
ocean, it slopes downward under the ice sheet. So the forward edge of the
glacier and its grounding line, which is the last and highest
point at which the ice sheet rests on land, is in
contact with ocean water. This opens the glacier to
basal melt by ocean heat flux. That is, warm ocean
water can melt the front of the bottom
edge of the ice sheet. If, as is the case
with Thwaites Glacier, the land on which the
ice rests slopes downward as it moves inland,
the melting water is able to flow downhill,
reducing the friction with the land under
the ice sheet, and allowing the ice to slide
more rapidly into the sea. And no one has been
able to see a way to stop this process of
enhanced melting, which is pretty clearly under
way in West Antarctica. But it’s recently been
discovered that the top Totten Glacier, T-O-T-T-E-N, which is
a pivotal feature of the East Antarctic ice sheet, just
like the Thwaites Glacier in the West Antarctic, is also
a marine-based ice sheet that several lines of evidence now
suggest is also susceptible to basal melt by
ocean heat flux. No one is claiming that the
melting of East Antarctica has also already
become irreversible. On the contrary, the
point is that this may depend on what we do. So consider the
following scenario– this is not a prediction, it’s
just a hypothetical scenario to illustrate why there’s
less to carbon dioxide removal than meets the eye. Suppose that the atmospheric
concentration of CO2 continues to rise more
than it would need to rise because
of a policy choice to gamble on less
ambitious mitigation. Later, this overshoot
in carbon dioxide is reduced through some kind
of carbon dioxide removal technology. But during this temporary
period of overshoot, the additional atmospheric
accumulation of carbon dioxide drives an increase
in the temperature of the ocean water
that bays the Totten Glacier and its grounding
line, sufficient to precipitate the start of irreversible
melting in the East Antarctica. Totten Glacier contains roughly
the same amount of water as the entire West
Antarctic ice sheet. That is, it’s equivalent to at
least 3.5 meters of global sea level rise. So adding the melting of Totten
to the melting of the West Antarctic would double
the amount of sea level rise globally
to 7 meters– over 20 feet for those of you
who, like me, didn’t grow up with the metric system. That sea level rise would, of
course, endure for millennia. From a human
perspective, forever. This despite the fact that the
overshoot of atmospheric carbon dioxide that
launched the melting was corrected later by
carbon dioxide removal. The temperature itself
might even later come back down,
although that would be long after the accumulation
of carbon was reduced. Can we count on nothing like
this hypothetical scenario– the scenario that Totten
goes the way of Thwaites– won’t happen? That’s the gamble taken by
less ambitious mitigation now. Alternatively, what
an exciting privilege it is to belong to a set
of pivotal generations, with the opportunity to carry
out a once in a civilization transition. One of history’s
great revolutions, rivaling the
agricultural revolution and the industrial
revolution, whose dark side we’re now trying to confront. The energy revolution,
the building of a carbon free energy
regime, can potentially not merely limit climate change,
but create a cleaner, safer, healthier, smarter, more
diverse, more technologically advanced, and perhaps
even more just world. It will naturally have
its own dark side. We’re already
finding, for instance, that the exotic materials
in the batteries critical to renewables
bring their own problems for both extraction
and waste management. But if we could bequeath
to future generations normal problems– not extraordinary dangers–
we would have made an exceptional contribution. Some members of
future generations may be glad that we
rose to that occasion. They may remember us proudly. [APPLAUSE] – Thank you. That was really wonderful. So, we now have plenty
of time for questions. And shall I call on people? – Yes. Please. No, you should. – I will call on people. There are microphones, and
we’d like you to use them, OK? If you could– for
purposes of recording. So who would like to volunteer? Especially students
in the workshop. I would love to
have you volunteer. – There’s one. – OK. Christina. That microphone– – Wait. – Wait for the microphone. – The mics are also for me,
because my hearing is shot. – So my question would be
at the individual level, since not all of us
will be in the position to make the kind of
sweeping policy changes that you advocate for. So what kind of like,
individual thing can you do to be part
of making sure they’re on the right side of history? So if we’re not
remembered fondly, at least I won’t be the one– – Right. Right. Well, I don’t think there’s
any general formula. I mean, I think
in general people should make the contribution
that they can make to rapidly reaching zero carbon. Make the best one they can make. If being an environmental lawyer
is what you can do really well, that’s the thing to do. If political organizing is the
thing you do well, that’s it. We obviously need all sorts of
entrepreneurs and technology folks to come up with new
technologies for all sorts of different purposes. And there’s no doubt
money to be made, too. So you know, it’s certainly
not that everybody should start giving speeches
about climate change by any means whatsoever. I would hope that
everyone in their– there’s no real philosophical
argument for this, but just my own hope
would be that everybody would make some effort
to do something, and that a lot of people would
make a really big effort. I don’t know how you decide
when you’ve done enough, but it does seem– and I’ll be interested if
you think it’s crazy to– that I’m trying to lay on you
this sort of extra heavy job here, like defeating the Nazis. But you know, it seems
clear from the science that it’s now or never, and– that is now or never for
keeping climate change at a, quote, reasonable level. It will still be important not
to let it get worse, and worse, and worse. You know, the battle
won’t be over until the– Sorry, I’m filibustering. I’ll start giving
shorter answers. – Yes? Another question here? And say your name, because I
don’t know everyone’s name. Wait until you get
the mic, though. And what– – Hi, I’m Abby. I’m a master student here. You mentioned the need for
international social programs, and aid to help,
especially poorer countries that are unquestionably
experiencing greater costs from climate change. And that similarly, there’s
a problem with levels of cost between
different nations, based on different levels
of socioeconomic development and environmental factors. To what extent, if
any, do you think that the obligations involved
in mitigation and adaptation should be based around
those differences on a national and supposedly– – Should be based around– – Based around those differences
in kind of cost and benefits, particularly in the
balance between mitigation and adaptation, for
example, now, if any? – OK. There are a number
of facets to that. I mean, it’s– you can’t say
how much responsibility a given nation has to do with
climate change without giving an argument and explaining it,
and I’m not going to try to do this here, but I think it’s
fairly clear that a lot of us pretty wealthy nations have
quite a bit of responsibility. And in many cases, we
have responsibility to bring about emission
reductions which are greater than the
amount of reductions that would make
economic sense for us to make in our own country. Right? So just for pure
efficiency reasons, it would be better if quite
a bit of that investment were invested where there will
be a bigger bang for the buck, in a society where
costs are lower. That’s one factor. Another factor is
that it seems to me if you have a country
that’s sufficiently poor, and among the things
that we’d like to do are move its
people out of poverty, adapt to climate change
that’s already occurring, and bring about a transition
in its energy system from a fossil fuel based one
to a non fossil fuel based one, but it doesn’t have enough
money to do all these things. In fact, it’s almost
certainly going to choose to lift its
people out of poverty, and to adapt to the dangers. And so it’s not
going to have money to do the energy
transition, and so it’ll either stick with the
old infrastructure, and/or buy whatever’s the
cheapest infrastructure, which could in some cases
be fossil fuel. But if we, while fulfilling
our own responsibility, would transfer
some money to them, they could carry out their
own energy transition. That is, we provide
them with the funds they don’t have to
do the third thing. Am I talking about what
you are actually asking? – Yeah. I think sometimes we share the
same responsibility for aiding in the actual execution, is how
I’m interpreting your response, anyway. Would that be– – Say that again? Sorry, we’ve lost the mic. – I think the answer is yes. – OK. Sorry. – No, it’s fine. – Kevin. And then– – My question is about the
structure of the gamble, and usually if there’s sort
of the regular cost over time, you might have an insurance
policy to help smooth costs. And I’m wondering if, let’s
say we’re starting now, and you have to
outlay costs, maybe we would spend the money now,
but then push some of the debt onto future generations. You know, if you’re behind the
Rawlsian veil of ignorance, generations might say, we
want an insurance policy to make sure all generations
pay the same amount. And I’m curious what you
think about some sort of inter-generational
cost smoothing. – Mhm. Well, the key thing is to carry
out the mitigation now, right? To get it done. I would think
first you should do as much to reduce emissions
as you have a responsibility to do. If the amount you could easily
do exceeds your responsibility, then in that case
it might make sense to transfer some of
the costs forward. And people have argued for
that, but I’m not sure. I mean, this is partly
an empirical question– I’m not sure whether
the amount that we can do in the immediate
future, anyway, exceeds our responsibility. And an intermediate
choice, of course, is you could just choose to
benefit future generations. So there’s one extreme. First you fulfill your
own responsibilities, then there are
various reasons you can give why you might want to
do something that benefitted future generations, even though
it wasn’t your responsibility. If you dealt with all
of that and you still could make sensible investments
that would reduce emissions, you might pay for it by creating
debt for future generations. And certainly more worthwhile
than a lot of the things we’re doing now
that are creating debt for future generations. – OK. Ben is next, and can you
introduce yourself to Henry? – Hi, I’m Ben Lawrence. I’m majoring philosophy
and human rights. So I wanted to ask you about
two thoughts that you have. I mean, one is this framework
of inter-generational justice, which we’re
introducing with a kind of Rawlsian sort of apparatus. And there was the thought
about the distribution of risk as the kind of
benefits and burdens that were distributed. And then there was the very
interesting other set of ideas that I didn’t quite see how you
were bringing the two together. The other set of ideas was that
this isn’t how history works. That there are times where
the cards fall where they do, and there are certain
challenges that arise. And the idea is silly
that there be some silly– and it’s silly because
it’s a-historical– that it be applied
across the generations. And I found both
of these moving, but I wasn’t sure how
they live together. So maybe you could
say a little more? – Yeah. Well, they may well
not fit together. The latter I’m actually
very interested in, because it just kind
of hits me that this seems to be how it is. I mean, you can say, well, why
do I have to fight the Nazis, and the answer is
just, well, either you do it or it doesn’t get done. I mean, I still think there
would be limits, obviously. I mean, I think, you know,
every person has some rights to enjoy some kind of– at least decent, if
not flourishing life. And so at some point
you will have done all that can be expected of you. But that would be about you,
not about the generation. On the first thing,
I don’t mean to be appealing to any sort of
Rawlsian theory of justice. In fact, the main
thing I’m trying to do is get away from
theories of justice. For this purpose, I’m
trying to get away from theories of
justice and argue that continuing
business as usual constitutes harming people. So it’s not are we
distributing something fairly, it’s that we are
creating problems that will blight people’s lives. And so we should stop
creating those problems. And so in some ways there
isn’t an issue of distribution. The issue is just stop doing
destructive, harmful stuff. And there, it seems to me, there
isn’t a question of fairness. I mean, what is it
fair for you to do? You should do whatever
it takes to stop wrecking other people’s lives. So I mean, as I
imagine you know, a lot of the writing
about climate change is about theories of
intergenerational justice. In the strict sense,
I’m not talking about intergenerational justice. That is I’m not talking
about fair distributions. I’m talking about
stopping harming. That doesn’t answer
the question how to put the two themes together. If anybody thinks
the thing about– the last bit about it’s
now or never, and so on, is just rubbish, I’d
be happy to hear. Looks true to me, but– – OK. Yes? Right here. – Hi, my name’s Liz Moyer. I’m In the Department
of Physical Sciences. I’m a climate scientist. So I wanted to give
a little background on this idea of debts, and
massive philosophical question about it. So in my understanding,
which I’m gonna be careful because
this is being taped– what happened was people, for
various political reasons, have certain objectives where
they wanted to find a limit, to say, we must keep climate
under a temperature limit. They felt like
this was something that was useful, and sellable,
and convincing to people. And the problem is
the limits are really not possible without an enormous
amount of economic gain. And you mentioned
people who [INAUDIBLE],, which is not climate modelers. So they’re not
actually scientific, because they can be falsified. So there’s a
philosophical debate, too. And they said, please
provide scenarios that keep us under this target,
and that couldn’t be done. And so they basically
put in something that’s more magic, right? And then this magic
thing happens, and it’s at little cost if
you just make that assumption, so that CO2 was down. The question is how does science
respond to the pressure that comes from the political people
who say, oh, I know it’s not really true, but
this is effective, and this is what
people want to hear? Because there’s a lot of that. And that’s where
this comes from. And then it filters
into the discourse, and people lose the
distinction between what is a known scientific fact,
and what is speculation. What is politically
motivated argument. And those things become
more– as a scientist it’s extremely uncomfortable,
but it’s also not necessarily the correct thing
to do, to withdraw your position in philosophical
security, where you say, [INAUDIBLE]. But it’s a very hard problem. And whenever someone says
that, to immediately become agitated because here it is. This luring of
science and politics is happening all over again. – Yeah. That’s very helpful. And I don’t mean to make
the modelers the villains. I do understand that, you
know, they were asked, what would you have to do
to keep the temperature rise to 1.5, or to 2? And they said, well,
you’d have to pull out a lot of carbon dioxide that
we’re going to put in there. My one criticism
of the modelers is I think they could make it
a lot clearer how close we are to actually being
able to make these things work at scale. But I think what you said is
exactly what keeps happening. And this is a big
political problem. I mean, ever since 1992
the politicians have been going to the
scientists and saying, is it still possible that we can
keep climate change to a rise of 2 degrees centigrade? Show us how that
would be possible. So in 1995 the
scientists said, well, here’s how you could do it. Then the politicians
don’t do anything. But then they come
back in 2000 and say, could we still keep it to two? How would we do that? And the scientists showed
them how they could do that, but they didn’t do it. And so as you said,
now we’re up to where the only way you can
do it is with a bunch of negative emissions, using
technologies that for the most part aren’t feasible. And I have a separate
article about BECCS. But I mean, the big
problem about BECCS– and this relates to things
Martha knows about– is you use so much land and
water that there’s a real danger of driving food prices
really high unless, as I said– meanwhile, everybody’s
cooking vegetarian– and then there’s the passing
tipping points problem. But– am I distorting what you– – Oh, it’s not possible. I mean, look how much of
the Earth’s surface– we use a third of the
Earth just for food. You know? We don’t have anything extra. – Yeah. – Feeding people
is hard, you know? It’s not just that it’s
bad because [INAUDIBLE].. It’s not possible. It’s fiction. [INAUDIBLE] So the idea being
that, of course, our physical scientists get
very upset over these assessment models that are lumped
in the same category, usually, as bad economists. – Yeah. – It’s not physical science. It’s kind of a merger of
a lot of these things, and sometimes end up– it’s productive stuff,
but it can sometimes end up being not science,
and not anything. You have to make scenarios
about the future. But those scenarios are
non-falsifiable [INAUDIBLE] based on certain assumptions
that, like you said, people will come around and
say, oh, don’t talk about that. So it’s just a very
difficult dilemma for people who are trained
in saying precisely what you mean, and this is
exactly something and seeing the error bars. – Plus he doesn’t
have error bars. – OK. I see three hands, and so I
think we’ll take those three, and then we’ll adjourn
to the reception out in the hall, where you
can talk to Professor Shue more informally. So David, and then
Ben, and then Taylor. – Thank you. Two questions about
the structure– really the first part, where
you talked about what we should do for future generations. There you seem to say two
things that are assumptions that maybe we can question. One is that the cost of
doing something mitigated is very, very low today,
was your initial assumption. And I guess the question
is– well, it’s sort of easy. You said there’s no cost
today, no harm for the future. You’re going to
develop a philosophy so you don’t do that, right? So the harder question
for the philosophers– well, what if it’s
really [INAUDIBLE]?? And how do we think
about the problem? – OK. – And the other– this
is still a hard one. And then how do you
think about that? And then the second
assumption which made the problem
kind of easy was you spend a dollar today
mitigating to reduce the risk in the future. [INAUDIBLE] in the future
was your conclusion. But let’s not make
that assumption. Make a hard one,
saying no matter what we do, we impose
risk on the future. Which is– – No matter what we do, what? – We impose risk on the future. We spend a dollar
on windmills, we don’t spend a dollar on water
pollution or something else. And so it really is a
risk-risk trade off. And so I think you
made the case for doing something way too easy, by
assuming zero cost and only one way risk. So I wonder what
you think about– well, it’s really
expensive today, and we’re gonna impose
risk on the future no matter what we do. What’s the [INAUDIBLE]? – I didn’t mean to assume that
costs are terrifically low. I meant to assume that if
you distributed whatever costs there are fairly,
you needn’t make anybody worse off than they
would otherwise be. But maybe that’s just
obviously not true. I mean, if– you know,
I was thinking about it. You don’t want to put all
the costs on the coal miners when you get rid of
the coal, but you can take care of the
coal miners so that they don’t bear the whole thing. So you don’t make the
coal miners worse off. So I didn’t mean to be
a appealing to costs, but maybe what you’re saying
is I am implicitly because I’m assuming we’re not
making anybody worse off, and so I’m assuming– OK, I see. OK. That’s a problem. All right, I’ll have
to work on that. But what I mainly
meant to appeal to is that the problems
will get much worse. So that if at some
reasonable cost we could prevent some pretty
terrible stuff happening by acting now, but
that would cost more than it would cost
if people acted later, but that would allow more
of this stuff to happen, I think it would be better
if we went ahead and spent the more now. I mean, you don’t
want to just do least cost over
time in that kind of sense, I wouldn’t think. So I’ve lost the– – It was the risk, right? – Oh, risk. Yeah, no. I agree. I agree. Everything you’re doing
is imposing some risks. It’s just it seems to me that
choosing not to mitigate where you could fairly clearly
mitigate– and this, I guess, is where my assumption that
there’s not much cost just coming in– but you can see that
much greater risks are going to come later
is the wrong thing to do. The other thing is– I mean, the other of
several things here I don’t really
know how to handle. Is this thing about the
social fabric coming unstuck? But I’m really impressed
by that Parker book. I mean, he doesn’t
claim, you know, that the Little Ice Age
caused the 30 Years War, but it is true
that the Little Ice Age did disrupt agriculture,
did make food prices go up. So you had a lot of peasants
who were already unhappy, who now got quite
a bit unhappier. And that contributed a lot
to the political conflict. – But I think, actually,
in the second half of the talk you kind of answered
David’s question by saying, well, even if it costs
a lot, as fighting the Second World War did– well, that’s our
job, and we just happen to be the only ones who
are there to hear that burden. And we’d better do it. So that that’s how you would– I mean, back to Ben’s question–
bring the two parts of the talk a little bit more together. So, Ben? – This is something that came
up in your talk just a bit [INAUDIBLE],, so I
apologize for that. So I’m interested in this
it’s just our job thing. This idea that certain
generations just have things thrust upon them. And I’m interested in
that in conversation with your wanting to bracket
off the discussion of climate change from the greater question
of justice, a bit broadly. And I’m wondering
if you could borrow from more of a continental
discourse of the idea of the events in [INAUDIBLE],,
or the idea of the call that [INAUDIBLE] talks about,
as a way to think about this. Living off [INAUDIBLE],,
as a way to get at this special
circumstance that doesn’t fit within this sort
of Rawlsian justice framework. – Sure. I meant– what’s the
continental suggestion? – So either the doing
an idea of the event, or the idea of the call. Something like an [INAUDIBLE]. This sort of break. Yeah. – OK. All right. That particular literature
I don’t actually know, so the real answer to your
question is that I don’t know. But in a way I’m saying,
yeah, there’s a sort of call. I mean, you– the events cry
out for someone to do something, and you’re there. I mean, in a way it’s like the
parable of the Good Samaritan. You know, you can say, well,
why is it the Good Samaritan’s problem? It wasn’t their–
you know, problem, or whoever the other guys were. And the answer is he’s there. If he doesn’t do it,
it won’t get done. And that’s it. That’s not much of
an argument because– I mean, you know,
you could say, well, but if it’s not his problem
and it doesn’t get done– there you are. But I mean, that seems to me
to put, really, no value on– in the Good Samaritan
case, no value on the life of the
guy in the ditch. And if you said about the
climate change thing, well, so– if we’re ambitious, we can keep
eight coastal cities in India from flooding by keeping the
Totten Glacier from melting, but– you know, not our problem. I mean, that seems to me to
come very close to saying, well, those people
just don’t matter much. As long as the sacrifice
you would have to make is not, you know,
so great that it’s going to blight your life
to deal with the thing. – Last question, Taylor. And once again, please do
stay around for the reception and ask still more questions. – Hi. So my question is about
the moral salience of unlimited risks. – Oh, great. – So your third thesis is that
unlimited risks are uniquely objectionable in some way. But it seems like the
unlimited nature of a risk has to do with how the
risk develops over time. But that’s a different from
sort of the expected harm. And I definitely feel with
you that unlimited risks are, in some sense,
scarier or, you know, something along those lines. But is it really true
that they’re worse than other kinds of risks? From a moral perspective? – Well, I see it as an
interesting question. I would think so, in that
because they’re more severe, they are risks of greater
damage being done. And so that’s worse
than less being done. I mean, am I missing your– – So you might imagine comparing
a risk that has a limit, but is presently much greater. – Oh, I see. – Than a risk that’s unlimited. Because the limit has to do
with how it’s built over time. – OK. Of course, that would be
hard, and you’d have to– ideally you’d like to know
some probabilities, and so on. I mean, if you’re comparing
a president unlimited one, like we discover
that we really may go extinct in three
weeks, or something, compared to this other thing
where there’s no guarantee we won’t, but we don’t know. Yeah. Well, the present
one would seem more– I guess would, because
it was more urgent– I mean, one argument– I don’t know. And this is, really, an
interesting question. But one argument would
be the present one is really urgent because
it’s going to– since it’s sort of here now, and we
know it, it may happen soon, then we’ve really got to
deal with it right now. And other people will
have opportunities to deal with the other one. There’s been a little writing
about this sort of thing. There was a time– this is back in my food and
hunger days, but there was there was a guy
named Garrett Hardin who used to say that all
this ethics is just– he’d give a sort of
Malthusian argument that if you keep
preventing famines, you just get bigger
famines later. And so you should go ahead
and have a small one now, and then you’ll
get the population down to where it’s manageable. And I mean, this
is all nonsense. But one of the
arguments people made about that was, well, let’s
not go ahead and have this one, and maybe we can deal
with the other one later. But let’s just not
accept the current one. – OK. Well, I want to
thank you very much. This was a great session,
and thank you so much. – Thank you. Thank you all.

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