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Moral Collapse in a Warming World

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 September 2014


In his definitive book A Perfect Moral Storm, ethicist Stephen Gardiner argues that the way forward in a climate-changed world is so difficult in part because we “do not yet have a good understanding of many of the ethical issues at stake in global-warming policy.” We remain confused about such vital questions as who should take responsibility for the current condition, how to preserve equity between generations, and how best to think about our responsibility toward nonhuman animals. The resistance of governments to taking action, attempts by various players to throw sand in the eyes of the public, and specious arguments used to justify an unwillingness to do what is necessary all add to our moral bafflement.

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

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1 Gardiner, Stephen, A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 Katherine Richardson et al., Synthesis Report from the Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions conference, March 10–12, 2009 (Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 2009).

3 Hamilton, Clive, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change (London: Earthscan, 2010)Google Scholar, ch. 4; Jacques, Peter, Dunlap, Riley E., and Freeman, Mark, “The Organisation of Denial: Conservative Think Tanks and Environmental Scepticism,” Environmental Politics 17, no. 3 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Mooney, Chris, The Republican War on Science (New York: Basic Books, 2005)Google Scholar; Oreskes, Naomi and Conway, Erik, Merchants of Doubt (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010)Google Scholar; Hoggan, James, Climate Cover-Up (Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2009).Google Scholar

4 Brulle, Robert, “Institutionalizing Delay: Foundation Funding and the Creation of U.S. Climate Change Counter-movement Organizations,” Climatic Change 122, vol. 4 (2014).Google Scholar

5 For Australia, see Hamilton, Clive, Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2007)Google Scholar, ch. 10.

6 Edward Maibach, Connie Roser-Renouf, and Anthony Leiserowitz, Global Warming's Six Americas 2009: An Audience Segmentation Analysis, Yale Project on Climate Change and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, June 19, 2009. See also Riley Dunlap and Aaron McCright, “A Widening Gap: Republican and Democrat Views on Climate Change,” Environment Magazine 50, no. 5 (2008).

7 See note 3.

8 A similar list of transgressions is made by Donald Brown, see:

9 Cook, John et al. , “Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature,” Environmental Research Letters 8, no. 2 (2013).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 Cardinal George Pell, “One Christian Perspective on Climate Change” (speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, London, October 26, 2011). Real climate scientists have responded to Pell's speech here:

11 “Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene: A Report by the Working Group Commissioned by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences”, May 11, 2011

12 Pope Benedict XVI, “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation” (Message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace, January 1, 2010),

13 McCright, Aaron and Dunlap, Riley, “Cool Dudes: The Denial of Climate Change Among Conservative White Males in the United States,” Global Environmental Change 21, no. 4 (2011), pp. 1163–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

14 Hamilton, Requiem for a Species, ch. 4.

15 Boykoff, Maxwell T. and Smith, Joe, “Media Presentations of Climate Change,” in Lever-Tracy, Constance, ed., Routledge Handbook of Climate Change and Society (New York: Routledge, 2010), pp. 210–18.Google Scholar

16 Renée Lertzman, “The Myth of Apathy,” Ecologist, June 19, 2008.

17 Taylor, Shelley, Positive Illusions: Creative Self-Deception and the Healthy Mind (New York: Basic Books, 1989).Google Scholar

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