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March 22, 2015

Responding To: Week 9: Climate Change

The Challenge of Articulating the Ethical Mandate to Reverse Climate Change

Rajesh Sampath

The World Bank President, Dr. Kim, gave an eminently clear and robust analysis of the macroscopic view of climate change and its negative consequences for global development.  With analytic precision, compelling data and interrelated proposals he discussed various principles in thinking about the problem as well as concrete solutions we can begin to take to avert future catastrophe on a global scale.

Dr Kim’s proposals seem realistic and the scientific and analytic diagnosis of the problem seems to validate the assumptions behind the reasoning to promote immediate change.  Anything short of some major paradigmatic change could spell doom for many life-forms, most notably ours, unless of course we find other planets to migrate to that can support life, i.e. water and organic growth.

But sci-fi type scenarios are not realistic.  This leads to a number of ethical questions that go well beyond the question of whether Dr. Kim’s proposals are sound and viable. The questions that remain unaddressed center on whether the proposals can actually be realized. In other words, realization or actualization is different from whether something is realistic.

For example, can the current forces, processes, and competitive pressures driving international relations between powerful nation-states and transnational corporations alter their collective actions?  More specifically, can they do so in alignment with the World Bank’s vision to see ‘climate change as a development problem’ that must focus on those who will become more vulnerable than they already are, namely the world’s poor?  What is the moral incentive for the richest nations and the richest individuals and corporations everywhere, and not just in the most developed nations, to align their economic interests of self-preservation in reversing climate change with meeting targeted goals to eliminate the threats that most of the world (other than the rich) will face- namely water/food insecurity, pandemics and death caused by natural disasters?  How we answer this question could determine whether Dr. Kim’s proposal can be fully realized, instead of simply relying on the hope for realization, which may or may not come.

As Dr. Kim emphasized, ‘climate change is not only “a development problem.’ It is the greatest development problem humanity has faced since the dawn of human consciousness 7000 years ago.

Rajesh Sampath is an Assistant Professor of the Philosophy of Justice, Rights and Social Change at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

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