The Moral Problem
We now understand that our burning of fossil fuels causes climate change. Oil and coal have fueled our industrial growth and our high standard of living. Because there is a wide gap between our carbon pollution and the harmful effects of climate change, we are the generation benefitting from carbon pollution, but our children are at our mercy. It is our children and their children who will suffer the burdens of the increasing weather extremes of unabated climate change: increased hunger, homelessness, a decline in public health, and a changing natural world that no longer supports well-being as it has ours.
People have developed powerful technologies that have changed how natural systems function on a global scale. Our reliance on coal and oil to fuel those technologies have brought us to changing the climate, ushering in different climate conditions, including the real possibility that the changes may be so extreme that human civilization and the species itself may not survive.
Our children and their children will bear the consequences of our behavior. Climate change will have different impacts around the world and among different populations. Through our inaction, we are imposing the costs of our behavior on our children and upon the most vulnerable.
The Moral Challenge
Climate change is fundamentally a moral issue. The core moral principle embodied within our response to climate change is that we should not harm others for our self-benefit. If we unintentionally cause harm to another, then compensation for the harm is expected.
The moral response would be to reduce the harm of climate change by reducing our carbon pollution. For the harm we have already created, we must somehow compensate future generations by helping them prepare for the worsening storms.
Our moral response to climate change turns on our willingness to act on climate change even if we must somehow sacrifice our current levels of benefitting from carbon pollution. While many would agree that our children should not bear the burden of our private gain, what is it worth for us to avoid future generations suffering the consequences of our behavior?
A closely allied moral belief is that we must uphold the value of life. The well being of others is as important as ours. The date when harm occurs does not affect the value of life. People living in the future have the same value as those living today. Do we value someone’s life less because they live at a different time?
Many believe that we have special responsibilities to be stewards of Creation and protect the sanctity of the natural world. How much are we willing to sacrifice to do that?
The small but real chance exists that unabated pollution carbon pollution will cause an utter climate catastrophe that will risk the collapse and perhaps extinction of the human population. The moral question is how important is it to avoid a climate catastrophe that might put at risk the very survival of our species. The time to think about the future of humanity is upon us.
The Moral Thing to Do
We as a society must acknowledge the moral issues associated with climate change and the need for painful decisions.
We must reduce carbon pollution and pay the costs of mitigating climate change to compensate future generations for the harm of the climate change we caused.
We cannot risk being responsible for the possible collapse or even extinction of humanity and must take urgent action to avoid that consequence of unabated carbon pollution.
We must pull the damages out of the future into the present. Most of the costs of controlling carbon pollution caused climate change must be paid now to avoid the cost of climate change damage.
We can work together to redeem ourselves for the sake of our children.
Through our actions of fulfilling our moral responsibilities we can avoid putting our children in harms’ way.
Our children and their children will look back on us with gratitude as we cared for their well-being by abating our carbon pollution.
We are creating a future for our children and their children with a potential for life without overwhelming climate changes and social challenges.
We are upholding the sanctity of the natural world through learning how to live within it harmoniously.
By keeping in mind those living today and in the future, the most vulnerable here within our community and those around the globe, we participate in the collective moral response to the climate challenge and learn how all can live well together.
We as a society can rise to this moral challenge of our generation through our actions today and take pride that we have done the right thing to do.
Resource: Climate Change and Moral Judgment Ezra Markowitz and Azim Shariff, Nature Climate Change March 2012.