Yesterday LaGuardia College hosted Peter Singer who gave a short talk entitled ‘Climate Change and Ethics’. His basic argument was that by any reasonable standard of justice that one picks the U.S. comes out having a duty to lead the movement to reduce climate change. This is directly contrary to Bush’s stated reason for opting out of the Kyoto agreement (he said it wasn’t an ‘even-handed’ agreement because it exempted China and India…thereby implying that the treaty was unjust). He talked about three reasonable sounding principles of justice.
1. You break it you buy it– Historically the U.S. has been the number one contributor to greenhouse gasses and so should have the most responsiblity for cleaning up the environment
2. Forget the past, divide it up evenly according to how much each industrialized nation pollutes– The U.S. puts out about six times as much greenhouse gasses (per capita) as any other industrialized nation and so again, we have the greatest responsibility to clean up the environment
3. Benefit the least advantaged– This is the Rawlsian conception of justice according to which an inequality is acceptable only if it is tot he advantage of the least advantaged member of (the global) society. This would (obviously) entail that the U.S. would have to make drastic cuts to the amount of greenhouse gasses that we contribute (per capita).
So no matter how you slice it it looks like the U.S. has a moral obligation to take the lead in reducing climate change, and yet we refuse to be a part of Kyoto because it is ‘unfair’!
He then suggested something very interesting, which was that we might establish a global market for greenhouse emissions. We would have to figure out exactly how much gas the environment could absorb withoout raise the global temperature some negligable amount (say 2 degree celsius) and then we allot each industrialized nation an amount that they are allowed. We could then allow for nations to sell their allotment if there were not using it. So say that it turned out that the envirnment could take 3 tons of gas emitted per person per year (the U.S. emmits something like 5.8 tons per person per year, while India emmits something like 1.1). India could, if they wanted, sell us a portin of their allotment so that we could, if we willing to pay and they were willing to sell, maintain the lifestyle that Bush claims is an American right. This strikes me as such a good idea that it will probably never be implemented.