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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Procustes' bed?, March 21, 2010
This review is from: Climate Change Justice (Hardcover)
The premise of this book is: "The importance of an international treaty (to mitigate climate change) can scarcely be exaggerated" (pg. 2), in fact, the authors endow the "broad, deep, and enforceable treaty" with an ethical obligation (pg. 169 - 170) - no justification given for this deontological imperative.

The prospect of an enforceable treaty immediately raises issues that go beyond its goals and the means, namely those of entitlements, rights, and obligations under the treaty. These issues have to be settled prior to its conclusion. Given the stakes involved, all sorts of claims have been lodged: some spurious, some wrong or misguided, some justified. The book tries to sort out these claims, grouping them under several headings:

(a) distributive justice (should the treaty be a means to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor);
(b) guilt (a broad application of the 'polluter pays' principle);
(c) per capita allocation of pollution entitlements;
(d) treatment of future generations.

The analysis is not always an easy one to follow. This is partly inherent in the way claims are staked: they are usually sweeping, emotional, and contain different strands that have to be taken apart painstakingly. For the first three items the claims for 'special and differentiated responsibility' are questioned, and the authors argue that "nations should approach the climate problem with a forward-looking, pragmatic perspective", rather than try to use the opportunity to settle scores, in the specific climate change area or in general.

One caveat: when adjudicating entitlements, it would seem important to me as a precondition to adjudicate the question: "who is the eventual polluter?" Much is made in the book about China's and India's contribution to current emissions. Nothing is said about the fact that (primarily China) has become the manufacturing giant of the world, while the West has moved to (relatively) pollution-free services: "My country is carbon neutral: others do the dirty work" - won't do. Brazil's high per capita emissions might be linked to it being a large agricultural exporter. And New Zealand is being penalised for producing milk, butter and meat for the world at large. That such adjudication is not easy, I accept. That the issue should be ignored seems problematic to me, particularly if one were to toy with the idea of of 'per capita emission rights'.

This being said, there is much wisdom in the authors' conclusion. One may underscore their conclusions by recalling that, an argument about entitlements implies a full 'audit of entitlements': if the environment is a 'common resource', then why not oil, or copper, or diamonds? If slavery, why not female oppression? If racially-motivated genocide, why not political, or religion-driven jobs (the Thirty Year War my good example)? Redressing one tort may not bring about justice, if others are left unheeded. Justice is indivisible, and once one arrogates him/herself the right to adjudicate entitlements, all wrongs need totalling up in a universe of infinite possibilities, where icy chance plays its own unpredictable game.

On the treatment of future generations, I reckon that the authors hedge their bets: though they accept the 'principle of intergenerational neutrality' they plead for choosing projects with high rates of return. I found this section rather hard going and unsatisfactory. If saving lives is the issue, why not spend it on malaria, or a pneumonia vaccine? Each generation can save lives, and there is little reason to favour those in a distant future.

The intergenerational argument rests on the assumption that only explicit and dedicated action will solve the problem - wholly ignoring the embedded role of adaptation. Adaptation is akin to dark matter in astronomy: because it is hard to detect, it attracts little attention. Yet its role is huge - one only has to see the carbon intensity figures as they plummet. With general knowledge doubling every five years or so thanks to our ever increasing ingenuity, it is hard to imagine that this knowledge is unlikely collaterally to address the problem in the future, and in a big way. And, unlike investment, knowledge does not depreciate.

I conclude on a personal note: I'm both amused and amazed that people, who would recoil in horror from advocating central planning, plump for it at the first fashionable opportunity. This applies particularly when they teach at the University of Chicago, and profess some form of libertarianism. An international treaty of emission abatement of world scope is a brainchild of central planning - if I've ever saw one.

Is such a treaty at all necessary, even before we argue whether it is an 'ethical' imperative? This issue is relevant, for climate change justice is predicated on an enforceable treaty. If no treaty is needed, in other words, if there are other ways to dealing with climate change, then the whole discussion of climate change justice an be defused or side-stepped, leaving much more time to tackle the substantive issue of climate change - an issue that, according to the authors, we have treated symbolically in the past - we were procrastinating while bickering over entitlements. This is no facile reflection: the INFCCC framework has been 20 years in the making. Is this truly the ONLY way forward?

I have my doubts. The principle argument here is not based on material evidence, but on Dr. Hardin's seminal paper "Tragedy of the commons" in 1968, which has since been overtaken by reality - yet most economists, never having read the original paper, keep repeating the mantra uncritically (To save you from having to look it up: Hardin confidently predicted that only an IFCCC-style agreement on population control would allow us to reduce fertility rates. Billions of women have proven him wrong). Ms E. Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009 for showing scientifically how and where Dr. Hardin went wrong Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions), so I leave the matter in better hands than mine. But if my hunch is just a little right, the whole discussion on entitlements is a Procustes' bed.

And, I was about to forget: I'm somewhat puzzled by the contention that "the notion of collective responsibility
has been rejected by mainstream philosophers (...) and none seems to defend it any more as a matter of principle" (pg. 101). If this is the case, then Hiroshima and Dresden were war crimes, for their justification is only collective responsibility, and so it what happened to Germany in 1945 Germany 1945: From War to Peace. More generally: any war is by definition an act of exacting retaliation on a community. Have we eschewed war? And what about preventive wars? How could a government - even graced by manifest destiny - have a 'right' to fight them, when no tort has been committed yet?
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 24, 2010 12:58:51 AM PDT
Ormond Otvos says:
A bit facile to critique, and then walk away, I think.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 24, 2010 2:26:51 AM PDT
Sceptique500 says:
meaning what?

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 24, 2010 5:12:19 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 24, 2010 5:14:20 PM PDT
Ormond Otvos says:
Well, Aldo, I've read your other reviews, and you seem a very sharp and well-informed person. I don't know how sharp I am, but I've been servicing electronics since tubes were common, and have my degree in molecular physics. My evaluation of the weight of the evidence and the formation of the IPCC is that I'm probably going to see massive social disruptions from crop failure, floods and water shortages, as well as more extreme weather events like hurricanes and tornados due to more extreme variations in jet-stream. My beef with you is that you're playing the statistics-free game of absolute proof about AGW action.

We often criticize our teens for their poor ability to process probability re car accidents. I'd make that same critique of your attitude about global warming.

You're walking away from the best facts we have, I suspect because it's already too late.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 24, 2010 8:27:38 PM PDT
Sceptique500 says:
Ormond,
I do NOT take issue with the IPCC at all. for one it is not my specialty, also it is "work in progress".

1.My complaint is with the tunnel vision of those, who want to do something about climate change, and think that ONLY a global agreement (UNFCCC framework) will do. There are many ways to skin the cat, and if we concentrated on finding out what works best, rather than wasting time getting "all the ducks in line", much would be gained. My complaint is against those that think we can "upscale" from the Montreal Protocol, as if blowing up a frog would/could yield a bull. In particular, they ignore "adaptation", simply because it is not easily measurable, or politically fashionable.

2. Climate change is a very serious issue, where action is quickly needed. But so are other issues. Even should we get the 2015 UN poverty reduction goals right, we would lose 250 million by unnecessary deaths. People die from malaria, pneumonia, and other illnesses TODAY, not in a hundred years. I'm concerned that we forget the basic fact that a healthy and educated population is the basis of our future. The Stern Report, which is based on special pleading (only CC deserves a special "social discount rate") is a good example of trafficking the logic to suit today's fashion.

All of these are issues of the mind, not the facts. While the IPCC and other scientific bodies worry about the facts, let us verify whether we think straight. We dont, and POSNER's book unfortunately is an example of it. But then, history is full of instances of "March of Folly".

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 24, 2010 8:30:49 PM PDT
Sceptique500 says:
Ormond,
I do NOT take issue with the IPCC at all. for one it is not my specialty, also it is "work in progress".

1.My complaint is with the tunnel vision of those, who want to do something about climate change, and think that ONLY a global agreement (UNFCCC framework) will do. There are many ways to skin the cat, and if we concentrated on finding out what works best, rather than wasting time getting "all the ducks in line", much would be gained. My complaint is against those that think we can "upscale" from the Montreal Protocol, as if blowing up a frog would/could yield a bull. In particular, they ignore "adaptation", simply because it is not easily measurable, or politically fashionable.

2. Climate change is a very serious issue, where action is quickly needed. But so are other issues. Even should we get the 2015 UN poverty reduction goals right, we would lose 250 million by unnecessary deaths. People die from malaria, pneumonia, and other illnesses TODAY, not in a hundred years. I'm concerned that we forget the basic fact that a healthy and educated population is the basis of our future. The Stern Report, which is based on special pleading (only CC deserves a special "social discount rate") is a good example of trafficking the logic to suit today's fashion.

All of these are issues of the mind, not the facts. While the IPCC and other scientific bodies worry about the facts, let us verify whether we think straight. We dont, and POSNER's book unfortunately is an example of it. But then, history is full of instances of "March of Folly".

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 24, 2010 10:18:17 PM PDT
Ormond Otvos says:
Aldo,

#1, a strawman. Every serious discussion I've read or spoken to/in was looking desperately for any AND all solutions to the problem, implemented in any way that works, from central command/control to neuromarketing/propaganda techniques.

#2 Honesty requires numbers here. What is YOUR impression of the deaths/year of the various maladies you list, compared to the projected deaths from AGW? Don't forget that pollution from coal electricity is killing hundreds of thousands globally, and removing coal as a source of CO2 removes radiation, mercury, acid rain, heavy metals, etc from the air also. Solar ovens and PV/LED lighting remove a lot of deforestation and indoors pollution. Efficiencies in water use improve disease and parasite infestation.

Your last paragraph makes me wonder about how well versed you are in current neuroscience, especially the emotion/reason research. I see you like metaphors. Here's one: information is to behavioral change as spaghetti is to a ... brick.

We don't disagree, except perhaps on the efficacy of reason and logic and evidence in changing the behavior of the masses. I'm an elitist. Proud of it.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 25, 2010 8:40:13 PM PDT
Sceptique500 says:
Ormond,

1. The whole book under review is UNFCC. There is no other political game in town (than UNFCCC. There was a Bush technology initiative - forgotten.
2. Malaria is 1 million NOW, pneumonia in 3 million NOW - etc. read up please before you pass around judgements. I agree that coal is dirty (actually much dirtier than nuclear, for heavy metals are forever). But in the CC discussion no one is claiming those "hundreds of thousands killed" as benefits, so you must be wrong in your info somewhere.

The midden of history ar littered with elites - proud or otherwise (ever heard of the CP? Neo-cons?). I know full well that information hardly changes emotions. But it's the only way nature has given us to communicate. Chanting religious hymns, or worshipping elites atop Mexican pyramids, ordering the toiling masses about won't wash.

No point in continuing this.
Aldo
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