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Face Reality? After You!—A Call for Leadership on Climate Change

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 April 2011

Extract

In Joseph Heller's comic war novel, Catch-22, the catch-22 of the title refers to a supposed military regulation that allowed one to be relieved of military service if one was insane, but further provided that no one who realized he would be better off out of military service could possibly be insane. Humanity's so far leaderless approach to dealing with rapidly accelerating climate change embodies a similar, but profoundly tragic, catch-22 that has, among other twists and contradictions, transmuted justice into paralysis.

Type
Essays
Copyright
Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 2011

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References

1 Bodansky, Daniel, “The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference: A Postmortem,” American Journal of International Law 104 (2010), pp. 230–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Rogelj, Joeri, Chen, Claudine, Nabel, Julia, et al. , “Analysis of the Copenhagen Accord Pledges and Its Global Climatic Impacts—A Snapshot of Dissonant Ambitions,” Environmental Research Letters 5 (2010), pp. 19CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also note 16.

3 Rajamani, Lavanya, “The Making and Unmaking of the Copenhagen Accord,” International and Comparative Law Quarterly 59 (July 2010), p. 837Google Scholar.

4 Gillis, Justin, “As Glaciers Melt, Science Seeks Data on Rising Seas,” New York Times, November 13, 2010Google Scholar. See also Kaufman, Leslie, “Front-Line City in Virginia Starts Tackling Rise in Sea,” New York Times, November 26, 2010Google Scholar.

5 See Oreskes, Naomi and Conway, Erik M., Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010)Google Scholar; and Vanderheiden, Steve, Atmospheric Justice: A Political Theory of Climate Change (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 3844Google Scholar.

6 Shue, Henry, “Deadly Delays, Saving Opportunities: Creating a More Dangerous World?” in Gardiner, Stephen M., Caney, Simon, Jamieson, Dale, and Shue, Henry, eds., Climate Ethics: Essential Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 148Google Scholar. See also Manson, Neil A., “Formulating the Precautionary Principle,” Environmental Ethics 24 (2002), pp. 263–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 I am grateful to Simon Caney for pointing this out.

8 Meehl, G. A., Stocker, T. F., Collins, W. D. et al. , “Global Climate Projections,” in Solomon, S., Qin, D., Manning, M. et al. , eds., Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 824Google Scholar.

9 World Resources Institute, “Earth Trends, Environmental Information: Contributions to Global Warming: Historic Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Fossil Fuel Combustion, 1900–1999”; available at earthtrends.wri.org/maps_spatial/maps_detail_static.php?map_select=488&theme=3.

10 This is argued more fully in Henry Shue, “Historical Responsibility,” Technical Briefing for Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention [AWG-LCA], SBSTA, UNFCC, Bonn, June 4, 2009; available at unfccc.int/files/meetings/ad_hoc_working_groups/lca/application/pdf/1_shue_rev.pdf.

11 Rosenthal, Elisabeth, “Nations That Debate Coal Use Export It to Feed China's Need,” New York Times, November 21, 2010Google Scholar. See also Gerth, Karl, As China Goes, So Goes the World (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010), esp. chap. 8Google Scholar.

12 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. [2010].

13 Journalistic coverage of the science is also poor—see Painter, James, Summoned by Science: Reporting Climate Change at Copenhagen and Beyond (Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2010)Google Scholar.

14 See Gardiner, Stephen M., A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”; available at unfccc.int/essential_background/convention/background/items/1349.php. For thorough legal analysis, see Rajamani, Lavanya, Differential Treatment in International Environmental Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 See, e.g., the central plea for leadership in United Nations Environment Programme, “The Emissions Gap Report: Are the Copenhagen Accord Pledges Sufficient to Limit Global Warming to 2°C or 1.5°C?” November 2010. I am grateful to Anja Karnein for this source.

17 I attempt to explain more fully why they are urgent in Henry Shue, “Human Rights, Climate Change, and the Trillionth Ton,” in Denis G. Arnold, ed., The Ethics of Global Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

18 I was provoked to think about the ethical status of this duty to lead by Anja Karnein.

19 See Raymond, Leigh, “The Emerging Revolution in Emissions Trading Policy,” in Rabe, Barry G., ed., Greenhouse Governance: Addressing Climate Change in America (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2010), pp. 101–25Google Scholar.

20 See Henrik Selin and Stacy D. Vandeveer, “Multilevel Governance and Transatlantic Climate Change Politics,” in Rabe, ed., Greenhouse Governance, pp. 353–65.

21 Forster, P., Ramaswamy, V., Artaxo, P., et al. , “Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing,” in Solomon, , Qin, , Manning, , et al. , eds., Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 137Google Scholar.

22 The Cancún Agreements, negotiated in December 2010, are pitifully weak, and the U.S. has once again settled for a lowest common denominator that is shamefully far below the minimum urgently needed now.

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