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The Changing Ethics of Climate Change

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 September 2014


Many in the environmental movement have argued in recent years that in order to speed up climate actions we should take the ethics out of the climate change debate. Focusing on the moral obligation to act or on the effects of climate change on the most vulnerable was often judged to render the discourse too “heavy,” “negative,” or “difficult.” Many also deemed it unnecessary. After all, renewable energies, better designed cities that allow for reduced car use, and power plant regulations that lead to cleaner local air—to take just three examples—all have real and substantial benefits unrelated to the fact that they are “the right thing to do” in the face of climate change. They create jobs, reduce health problems and costs, and make society fitter.

Roundtable: The Facts, Fictions, and Future of Climate Change
Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 2014 

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2 See Barack Obama's Weekly Address to the Nation, May 31, 2014, “Reducing Carbon Pollution in Our Power Plants,” accessed June 3, 2014,

3 See World Bank, “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided,”

4 See Chris Mooney, “7 Scary Facts About How Global Warming Is Scorching the United States,” Mother Jones,, May 6, 2014, accessed June 3, 2014.

5 In debates at UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, often equated with the Annex 1 countries of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

6 See endnote 3.

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13 Li Shuo and Lauri Myllyvirta, The End of China's Coal Boom (Greenpeace East Asia, April 11, 2014), accessed June 26, 2014,

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18 See Daniel Mittler, “Friends in High Places—the Arctic 30 Receive Political Support All Over the World,” Greenpeace Blog, November 8, 2013, accessed June 26, 2014,

19 Chris Rose, “The Cornered Dinosaur and the Carbon Hostages,” Three Worlds, October 18, 2013, accessed June 9, 2014, = 286.

20 See Deadly Environment: The Dramatic Rise in Killings of Environmental and land Defenders (London: Global Witness Limited, 2014)Google Scholar, accessed June 3, 2014,

21 Bill Kovarick, “Greenpeace,” website of Prof. Kovarick, accessed June 30, 2014,

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25 See Desmond Tutu, “We Need an Apartheid-Style Boycott to Save the Planet,” Guardian, April 10, 2014, accessed June 30, 2014,

26 See the “Fossil Free” campaign website, accessed June 30, 2014,

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29 See “The Energy [R]evolution 2012,” Greenpeace International website, accessed June 3, 2014,

30 See Kumi Naidoo, “Time for an Energy [R]evolution,” Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development website, accessed June 3, 2014,

31 See International Energy Agency, “Any Country Can Reach High Shares of Wind, Solar Power Cost-Effectively, Study Shows,” February 26, 2014, accessed June 29, 2014,,47513,en.html; Al Gore, “The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate,” Rolling Stone, June 18, 2014, accessed June 29, 2014,; and Daniel Mittler and Kaisa Kosonen, “Dear Fossil Fuel Industry—It's Over,” Greenpeace Blog, April 13, 2014, accessed June 3, 2014,