The moral element of climate change

February 24, 2017 by Alex Shashkevich
Blake Francis, doctoral candidate in philosophy, is working to create a framework that governments could use to evaluate the moral implications of energy and transportation policies that affect the environment. Credit: L.A. Cicero

Lawmakers around the world struggle to create policies that balance their nations' needs and interests with their impacts on global warming.

Trying to figure out what to prioritize is a tough call for many.

Blake Francis, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at Stanford and a Geballe Dissertation Prize Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, hopes to help guide those decisions by identifying the harms of climate change and assessing their moral significance.

Through his research, he aims to create a framework that governments could use to evaluate the moral implications of their energy, transportation and other climate change policies in order to consider when it is morally justified for them to emit greenhouse gases.

"We often have debates in climate change about how to trade off benefits and burdens without adequately considering what constitutes benefits and burdens – and whether all burdens are of the same kind," said Debra Satz, a professor of philosophy and senior associate dean for the humanities and arts. "Blake's approach introduces an important dimension – not all burdens to people count as harms."

For example, a wealthy company losing a small portion of its assets is less harmful than a person losing his or her subsistence – even if the dollar amount of the company's loss is greater than the individual's loss, said Satz, who is also Francis' advisor.

"This research is poised to make a significant contribution to our obligations to others in the context of the differential consequences of climate change," she said. "It's political philosophy at its best – illuminating, deep and action-guiding."

Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, said the philosophical perspective on climate change is crucial for approaching the problem in an efficient way.

"As natural scientists, we know a lot about what controls the climate and what kind of impacts we're likely to see in the future," said Field, a professor of biology and of Earth system science and a member of Francis' dissertation committee. "But increasingly the important questions are human ones. What will people decide is important regarding climate change? Natural science can't speak to those issues and philosophy can."

Dissecting tough calls

As part of his research, Francis has looked at hard decisions governments across the world have made regarding climate change.

Some of the cases he has examined include the debate over fracking technologies in the United States and the energy crisis in Pakistan.

Over the past several years, Pakistan has been dealing with a shortage of electricity as a result of its weak supply and infrastructure that leads to frequent blackouts affecting millions of citizens.

The country struggled with the decision of whether to convert to renewable energy, extract more coal or continue to rely on importing oil for its energy needs. Officials eventually decided to extract more coal despite the adverse environmental effects.

"This has helped me get a sense of the stakes involved in these types of debates," Francis said.

Subsidized gas prices are another example of a moral challenge nations face, he said.

"Americans aren't paying the true price of gasoline," Francis said. "And I think there is something very worrying about the fact that because of government subsidies we are not paying that true cost. But it's complicated because we know that keeping gas prices low is really good for the poor and the middle class."

In addition to examining specific cases, Francis is studying and their evolution on the national and international level to determine the current moral assessment the public has about actions that lead to . He is also researching the rules of organizations, such as the World Bank and the World Health Organization, regarding climate change, the restrictions they put on projects they help finance and how those policies were decided.

The information and insight Francis gains will be used to help create the moral framework so that nations can choose wisely when it comes to climate change policy. But that framework will require a long time and an effort from experts of all disciplines.

"Ultimately, it's a big interdisciplinary task that philosophers by themselves won't be able to accomplish," Francis said. "But I think there is a big chunk of it having to do with what counts as a harm, how to trade off benefits and harms and when emitting is wrong that I could have a say in."

Unhappy with current philosophical takes

Francis, who previously worked for the forest service in Arizona and Alaska, has been passionate about the environment since an early age.

He was first exposed to climate change ethics at the University of Montana before coming to Stanford in 2010. Francis said he decided to home in on climate change and morality after being unsatisfied with the take on the subject by current philosophers, who either talk broadly about how nations and individuals are harming others by for their own benefit or suggest that humanity needs a new set of moral tools to deal with climate change debates. Some in the literature also simply deny that greenhouse gas emitters do any harm.

Francis said he believes challenges, such as air pollution, are similar to the complexity of the . Pollution is regulated but is not outlawed because its presence also means there is a production of goods, Francis said.

"Carbon dioxide emissions won't ever go away – we exhale it," Francis said. "So there is nothing inherently wrong with emitting carbon dioxide. But there does seem to be something terribly wrong with the scale of human emissions since the Industrial Revolution. But at the same time, we are all the beneficiaries of incredibly important advancements in medicine, science, infrastructure and other areas from the Industrial Revolution."

The current international discussion around climate change is complicated because different countries have varying perspectives on how to distribute the burdens of combating it, Francis said.

"I think there is a strong feeling among government officials in some countries that large emitting countries are more responsible for doing something about ," Francis said. "But there are also others, including members of our government, who are only concerned with satisfying national interests – even at the expense of others."

In the 1990s, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change formulated a distinction between the developed and the developing countries by putting more responsibility on the developed parts of the world to curb their emissions, which were larger than those of other countries at that time.

But since then, the emissions produced by developing countries have skyrocketed. China is now the largest emitter of , although the United States is still considered to have produced the most emissions in total since the Industrial Revolution.

"Is China doing wrong by basically leading the biggest anti-poverty movement the world has ever seen?" Francis said. "To actually determine whether a country's emissions are morally justified, I think you have to go case by case. There is a certain degree of that could be justified by the benefits they produce."

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FactsReallyMatter
2 / 5 (4) Feb 27, 2017
For example, a wealthy company losing a small portion of its assets is less harmful than a person losing his or her subsistence – even if the dollar amount of the company's loss is greater than the individual's loss, said Satz, who is also Francis' advisor.


What about the people that lose their employment as a result? Do they matter? Why the False argument in the first place, the assumption is that it is one or the other?

Is it moral to trick the public into thinking this is a moral issue? Is it even moral to trick the public?
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
What about the people that lose their employment as a result? Do they matter? Why the False argument in the first place, the assumption is that it is one or the other?


In the leftist naive "folk" economics, the different social classes are not interdependent on each other to exist, but instead the business owners are seen as merely parasiting on the working class like a tumor growing on a person. Entrepreneurship and business owning is viewed with suspicion and an assumption of malice, so there's no trouble in removing assets from them. In fact any excuse to do so would be a good thing, because the underlying assumption is that the very existence of privately owned companies is on some level immoral.

That is one of the things you need to notice when talking about morals. Not all people share your version of reality, and thereby your morals. Rights become wrongs and vice versa when you change the perspective.
Eikka
not rated yet Mar 04, 2017
It's important to notice that in abstracting things away behind euphemisms like "assets", those assets always include the people working for the company.

If a company loses a million, the automatic response is to reduce costs to compensate, and that means layoffs. Alternatively, the company shifts the loss into prices and everyone pays. That means the general price levels start to rise, and someone on the poorer end of the society is going to drop out anyways, unable to afford basic living standards.

So you can't really juxtapose the individual to the company, because in a market economy their existence and operation are mutually arising and dependent.

It's easy to say "Let's just tax carbon emissions" when you're not taking into account the effect it has through price inflation, which will lead to more poverty and poverty related problems in the society. Even if you're trying to hurt just the rich who can take it, the effect ripples throughout the society anyhow.
Benni
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
"Americans aren't paying the true price of gasoline," Francis said. "And I think there is something very worrying about the fact that because of government subsidies we are not paying that true cost. But it's complicated because we know that keeping gas prices low is really good for the poor and the middle class."


.......and with this statement Francis completely discredits just about everything else upon which he makes conclusions. It is totally FAKE to make the statement that gasoline prices in the US are subsidized by the US government, if he were talking about Venezuela, he would have been dead-on accurate, a country where a gallon of gasoline costs half a buck compared to an average of two & a half in the US. So which country can you conclude gasoline is subsidized? Yeah, do the math, it isn't hard, except of course for Francis.
Da Schneib
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 04, 2017
In @Eikka's rightwingnut world, everyone who doesn't work for a company is immoral and should be allowed to die because they are a parasite. This particularly includes people who work for governments, universities, and apparently scientists as well.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2017
The guvmunt will not save the Earth. The narcissist who let a shock jock call his developing daughter a "piece of ass" on national radio has no moral compass.

Now it comes down to personal choices and personal actions.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2017
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 04, 2017
It is totally FAKE to make the statement that gasoline prices in the US are subsidized by the US government
@benji the illiterate TROLL
wrong again
is your google broke, or are you really so incompetent that you can't do a basic internet search?
United States ‒ Progress Report on Fossil Fuel Subsidies

https://www.treas...inal.pdf

mind you, i know that aint your usual source material, benji, given that it's actually a US gov't document from the US Treasury and it's not some political site or pseudoscience link...

Benni
1 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2017
In @Eikka's rightwingnut world, everyone who doesn't work for a company is immoral and should be allowed to die because they are a parasite. This particularly includes people who work for governments, universities, and apparently scientists as well.


Uh. huh, meanwhile look what's happening even as we speak in your leftwingnut world.

Most of the population of an oil rich country doesn't even have enough income to pay for the basic necessities of life and are on the verge of starvation, but the lucky people that they are under Communist Maduro, they only pay about $0.50 for a liter of gasoline.

Hey, Schneibo, you too should join in on the benefits that the paradise of an oil rich fiefdom brings to the world, emigrate to Venezuela. Hell's bells man, you wouldn't even be able to power up your computer for a long enough period of time in a day to put up even one post here on this site........fool.
gkam
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 04, 2017
I think benni will be happier in the Conservative Paradise, where he has no silly rules to obey, no regulations, few collectable taxes, little government, where he can own any weapon he can buy, steal, or kill to get, . . and so can everybody else.

It is Somalia, the conservative paradise. Get there today.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2017
"Trying to figure out what to prioritize is a tough call for many.
Blake Francis, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at Stanford..."

-And if I had chosen this academic path to success I would be desperate to find a way of earning a living as well.

"The information and insight Francis gains will be used to help create the moral framework..."

-I would just want to caution that the magnitude of the sitting and thinking this might require could lead to cranial diverticulitis.

Thats right thats what I said. Also transcendent hemorrhoids.

"Ultimately, it's a big interdisciplinary task that philosophers by themselves won't be able to accomplish,"

-or at all I would speculate.
Da Schneib
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 04, 2017
@Otto, I think philosophy took a wrong term when Derrida invented deconstructionism. The only thing it seems to be good for is denial. The Sokal Affair demonstrates this conclusively IMO.

There *is* good philosophy, but it's pretty hard to find in the hot mess of Derridists.

On a side note, I've had you on ignore for quite a while; it's struck me as inconsistent that I occasionally taken idiots like @BouncedRealityCheck and @Lenni off ignore, but not you. I'll try taking you off ignore for a while. Most of what I see from you is at least less offensive than what they post.
Benni
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
On a side note, I've had you on ignore for quite a while; it's struck me as inconsistent that I occasionally taken idiots like @BouncedRealityCheck and @Lenni off ignore, but not you. I'll try taking you off ignore for a while. Most of what I see from you is at least less offensive than what they post.


Hey there Schneibo, if you took me off IGNORE you wouldn't know what else to do with your last stop in life here in this chatroom.
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2017
@Lenni, it's Saturday afternoon and it's amusing to watch you try to squirm out of your intellectually bankrupt negative information dispersal. You're just whining because you know you're going to get pwnt every time you say something stupid today. Get over it.

On edit: Thanks for the 1 without a reply, @Lenni, every time you do that it proves I'm right about you.
Benni
1 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2017
Yo Schneibo..........yeah, keep it going old boy.........ya gotta keep that last stop going for as long as possible, I'm just here to help you out a little.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
No significant response in scientific terms on the science site, @Lenni? What's the matter, finally figured out you don't have a scientific argument that's not a lie that everyone can see through?

That's pathetic. You're beyond pitiful; there's no point in pitying someone who is willfully stupid.
Benni
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
No significant response in scientific terms on the science site, @Lenni? What's the matter, finally figured out you don't have a scientific argument that's not a lie that everyone can see through?

That's pathetic. You're beyond pitiful; there's no point in pitying someone who is willfully stupid.


.......OK Schneibo, point out the science content of your above post?

Or the science content of this one of yours:
@Lenni, it's Saturday afternoon and it's amusing to watch you try to squirm out of your intellectually bankrupt negative information dispersal. You're just whining because you know you're going to get pwnt every time you say something stupid today. Get over it.

On edit: Thanks for the 1 without a reply, @Lenni, every time you do that it proves I'm right about you.


Just following your lead old boy, and all the fine examples you set & criticize others for following.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
Just following your lead old boy
Since you started the exchange, it's obvious you're lying again, @Lenni.
Benni
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
Just following your lead old boy
Since you started the exchange, it's obvious you're lying again, @Lenni.


Another fine Schneibo example of SCIENCE CONTENT.

Got another example you want to parade in front of the eyes of casual readers?
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
The lack of science content is your fault, @Lenni, since you started the exchange; I commented on philosophy which, while not science, at least has the distinction of being topical to the article we're supposedly commenting on here.

If you got some science bring it. I'm here all day.
Benni
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
If you got some science bring it. I'm here all day.
........of course you're here all day, old boy.

.....so many times in the past I've tried to direct you to the Differential Equations in General Relativity but you always rebutted them with Schwarzschild's antiquated Black Hole Math......high school level algebra.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
Differential Equations in General Relativity
Off topic; the topic is the moral element of climate change policy.

Meanwhile, GRT's primary equations, the EFE, are tensor equations.

On Earth.
Benni
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
Schneibo, no time left for this day ole boy....got kids to take care of.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
@Lenni, that's a shame. That you have spawned, I mean.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2017
Back to the subject of the article, I have to say that morals seem to me to have little to do with this situation; it is ethics that must be considered here.

Ethically it is questionable to befoul the commons. It's really just that simple.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2017
@Otto, I think philosophy took a wrong term when Derrida invented deconstructionism. The only thing it seems to be good for is denial. The Sokal Affair demonstrates this conclusively IMO
-It never took a wrong turn. It was always on a straight path of bullshit. It was invented to avoid saying 'we dont know'. Religions stunted evil twin.
There *is* good philosophy, but it's pretty hard to find in the hot mess of Derridists
?? So name one thing real that philos ever 'explained'. Unexplainable and totally conjured things like 'metaphysical' dont count.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Mar 05, 2017
I took you off ignore and graced you with my attention
-But you didnt ask me if i cared. Thats rather impolite dont you think?
Eikka
not rated yet Mar 07, 2017
In @Eikka's rightwingnut world, everyone who doesn't work for a company is immoral and should be allowed to die because they are a parasite. This particularly includes people who work for governments, universities, and apparently scientists as well.


Actually, I'm more inclined towards the different labor theories of value, which are a typical feature of Marxism/Socialism. Yet I argue against socialism and Marxism - why? Because I don't care about what your political orientation is, but about what works in practice. It's a philosophical position called pragmatism.

https://en.wikipe...of_value

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Mar 07, 2017
Climate Change is the Ultimate Issue of our generation. If we do not face it and change it, we are all doomed.

Why have we let those with financial interests in this issue convince the uneducated it is a hoax? How did that happen?

Emotional manipulation has been used forever, and we have seen it from Segregation ("State's Rights!). to The Gulf of Tonkin to the alleged "WMD!". It still works on the vast baseline of poor education.

The rich once again have the poor vote against their own interests and for the benefit of the 1%, the result of Reagan's Dumbing-Down of America. The poorly-educated are emotionally-vulnerable, and do not know the difference between screaming "WMD!" and proving it before we indulge in mass killings.

We have proof of Climate Destabilization. It is time to act.
Eikka
not rated yet Mar 07, 2017
everyone who doesn't work for a company is immoral and should be allowed to die because they are a parasite.


It's not a question of how you organize the labor force, but about the fact that the society is limited in its inputs and outputs, and cannot sustain unlimited number of people who take from the society beyond what they return to it. Each individual like that means someone else who gets exploited and forced to work for more than their own sustenance. This applies equally to rich businessmen and poor people on welfare.

The difference is that the capitalist condemns one and excuses the other, while the socialist does the reverse. The reason why they do so is one of power: the capitalist gains power from the money he owns, while the socialist gains power from the poor he claims to represent.

Both argue that the systems they represent strive for fairness, while both actually benefit from the unfairness and the poverty they impose on the people.

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