Thursday, August 9, 2007

Climate change ethics talk with RSA--Manhattan, the fragile ecosystem

That torrential rain storm and the tornado in Brooklyn yesterday proved that Manhattan is indeed a fragile ecosystem. Floods halted the the nation's largest transit system. In my neighborhood, the Second Avenue bus line had lines of people stretching around the block. People were waiting for buses, not free ice cream.

Today, we just finished an excellent public forum on the Ethics of Climate Change at the Carnegie Council with RSA's Robin Thompson. In my mind some of the main ethical questions related to climate change cover the burden and solutions:

Burden: Distributing the burden of climate change, but on whom? On rich countries? On those most affected? On those with a history of polluting? On those with the ability to address the problem? Or shall we think about the actors that can help--countries, companies, or individuals? As one person said in the conference, it is probably all of the above.

Solutions: Kyoto has been criticized as being insufficient, but you have to start somewhere. What about the role of technology and transfer? The world has at its disposal much more advanced technologies now compared with those available during the Industrial Revolution. Or, as Peter Singer has suggested, how about dividing up the world's population to get a country's right to pollute and then trading polluting rights between countries based on need?

Some of the main points articulated during today's meeting include:

The importance of educating the public, of having accurate information, and considering what the data mean for the future.

Importance of interconnectedness, which can help people to change in faraway places, having a ripple effect.

The need to change the culture, to redefine environmental awareness as not just ethical but also cool. Al Gore is now considered a rock star--that's a good start.

The approach must be sane--we shouldn't panic or beat ourselves up. Sane and calm action needed.

Unintended consequences abound--a taxi driver who chooses an energy saving cab can use that money to put his kids through school, presenting odd tradeoffs like gas vs. education.

Think small, scale up, and imagine the possibilities. Get involved, push for political action before it is too late.

Finally, people and organizations must cooperate to put human development first.

We will be putting a summary up on soon.

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