In contemporary society, climate change represents a growing global crises which as of yet has not been adequately addressed on the global stage. While arguments supporting action against climate change have been ongoing over the last couple of decades, it is only recently that it has been conclusively shown human action is the main factor contributing to climate change. This finding was presented in the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the UN climate panel that surmised that they were 95% certain humans were the dominant factor in global climate.
Given the conclusive proof that the change in the climate is down to human action, it seems there should be a positive duty to reverse or halt the damage that is being done to the environment; particularly when considering climate change in relation to the common good. This paper explores climate change in relation to the common good as well as in reference to the differing stakeholder perspectives on climate change. To these ends the following paper will be divided into four sections. Section one first explains why climate change is intimately linked to the notion of the common good. Section two moves on to discuss the various perspective of differing stakeholders on the question of climate change. Section three then focuses on the concept of the common good in relation to climate change with a particular onus on principals that promote human flourishing. Finally, section four provides a conclusion to this paper which center on how the common good would be best served in relation to climate change.
Climate Change and the Common Good
Although discussed in greater depth in section three, it is important to appreciate the relationship between global climate change and the common good. From a broad perspective the concept of the common good refers to something that benefits all (or the large majority of) the members of a given community. As climate change is a clear and present danger that threatens not only humans but all life on the planet, it is an issue that is aligned closely to what is considered as the common good. As all life is dependent on maintaining homeostatic ecosystems the climate, and artificial climate change impacts everyone, thus action to halt man made climate change is part of the common good. Furthermore climate change not only affects people in the here and now but if ignored, has serious ramifications for the next generations.
Climate Change Stakeholders
As with any debate or argument, there are many different stakeholders and thus differing perspectives on climate change. In order to provide a comprehensive analysis of the differing perspectives on the climate change debate the following section explores climate change from the perspective of three distinct groups or stakeholder; namely, Industry leaders, Government as an institution and Nonhuman animals.
The first stakeholder group this paper will discuss is the perspective on climate change from Industry leaders. As has been reported, mass industry accounts for a large proportion of global emissions that contribute negatively to climate change. The first point to note is that Industry is primarily concerned with one goal, profit. The success of any company is determined by the profit line. Thus despite, many figures in Industry is concerned with climate change, such a consideration will always feature below profit margins and maintaining the company (as any other consideration would). One of the largest issues with implementing a carbon reduction in factories and companies is the fact that renewable energy and manufacturing processes are generally more expensive to run when considering the addition factor of global climate change.
Furthermore, in terms of the common good many figures in industry could claim that despite the negative effect they are having on the environment, they are providing work and a wage to many people; providing opportunities development both personally and financially which is a “good” that society typically values. While a utilitarian weighing of the relative “goods”, climate change clearly outweighs the benefits of providing income and jobs to a smaller section of the population.
The second stakeholder this paper identifies is the perspective of government bodies. As a variety of different countries government take different views on the importance of climate change, the following discussion focuses on government as an instrument rather than draw from specific policies. As a stakeholder in the climate change debate, governments hold a particularly interesting position insofar as typically they are created to implement the will of the people. While many of the worlds governments are in agreement over tackling climate change (such as the G8 and G20), often these measures have been seen by many as insufficient to make a considerable contribution. The key problem with the government perspective on climate change is that it consists of a very small part of the wider duties of government. Thus while there may be consorted agreement over the need to avert man made climate change, often other matters take precedent. In order to influence government”s position of climate change it is necessary to change public opinion and have this perspective represented by the officials who direct policy in line with public opinion. Thus education of the population would be a key factor in influencing change in government.
The final stakeholder group this paper addresses is that of nonhuman animals. This is a particularly interesting group to discuss as it raises the question of whether humans have a positive duty towards animals and nature as a whole. This question is explored from a philosophical standpoint in the following section, thus for the purpose of this section the focus is placed on the perspective of climate change from this particular group. Obviously, the interests of such a group have to be voiced by advocates, who are human, and generally place maintaining the ecosystems as the main factor in their argument. In relation to the common good this group of non-human animals and nature typically take the perspective that humans have a duty to preserve and maintain the environment. This duty stems from two differing points. First, the custodian argument follows that as humans have the capacity to change the environment they are under a positive duty to maintain the homeostatic balance of nature. The second argument follows that as it is highly likely that humans have created the problem relating to climate change, they are under an obligation to right this wrong.
As this discussion has shown, there are many differing perspectives from these three groups concerning climate change and the positive duty, or common good, in relation to tackling this problem. While this set of stakeholders only represents a small segment of the vast number of different perspectives concerning climate change it is clear that there are multiple views and incentives on the most efficient way to promote the common good. Furthermore each group has recourse to the common good in affirming their perspective. The following section moves to explore the problematic nature of climate change in relation to the common good and other principals relating to Human Flourishing.
The Common Good and Human Flourishing
Earlier in this paper the relationship between the common good and climate change was sketched out to establish the link between these two notions. The following section explores in greater depth the relationship between climate change and the common good as well as other principals that aim to maximize Human Flourishing.
From a philosophical standpoint, notions such as the common good stem from Utilitarian philosophy from writers such as Jeremy Bentham. At the heart of Utilitarian philosophy is a method in which to identify moral or ethical action. This deduction is typically framed as identifying “the greatest good for the greatest number”. Thus notions concerning the common good are typically linked to an empirical weighting of the relevant “good”, happiness or positivity in relation to the number of individuals affected. Clearly climate change is of central importance to all human”s (and indeed all life) thus the relationship between climate change and the common good is clearly a strong rationale for change.
Intertwined in the notion of the common good is the idea of promoting human flourishing (or Eudaimonia). In Definitions Plato provides the basic meaning behind Eudaimonia as: “The good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue; resources sufficient for a living creature.”. A similar line of thought was implemented by the Stoics who further contributed to the idea of Eudaimonia by discussing this concept in terms of man”s relationship to nature: as Clenthes stated: human flourishing is dependent on “living in agreement with nature”. The emphasis on the relation between man and nature as a fundamental concept of mans subjectivity clearly supports the relationship between the common good and climate change. Indeed, the overall principal that can be drawn from Plato, the Stoics and other advocated of human flourishing is the strong bound between man and nature.
In his article Gardiner discusses the ethics of climate change as a “perfect moral storm” for three reasons. First the global impact of climate change, it effects everyone; second, climate change is a problem which needs to be addressed throughout multiple generations; thirdly, that the theoretical tools thus far are insufficient to create a system to tackle the long terms effects of climate change. Through highlighting the issues relating to climate change Gardiner”s article provides a picture of the problems and part of some of the solutions in relation to combating climate change.
In regards to climate change it seems clear that the common good would be best served by reemphasizing the importance of reducing the negative impact of climate change as well as make it economically viable (or even positive) to pursue methods of production that promotes a halting of climate change. This would encompass a common good approach to climate change which could be reflected in a reordering of the economic factors that currently make climate change incentives unappealing to Industry. Furthermore, by following the idea that education and further research is needed to educate the next generation, future government policy will perhaps take a stronger stance on climate change and reorder how the economic, political and practical solution to slowing and perhaps reversing climate change could come about.
- Bentham, Jeremy.”A fragment on government. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 2001.
- Gardiner, Stephen M. “Ethics and global climate change.””Ethics”114, no. 3 (2004): 555-600.
- Hsiung, Wayne, and Cass R. Sunstein. “Climate Change and Animals.”University of Pennsylvania Law Review”(2007): 1695-1740.
- IPCC Press Release “Human influence on climate clear, IPCC report says” 27th September 2013
- Jamieson, Dale, ed.”A companion to environmental philosophy. John Wiley & Sons, 2008.