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Wonderful Exposition of the Moral and Ethical Elements Surrounding Climate Change
on January 30, 2014
A Perfect Moral Storm is a supremely written volume and requires much from the reader. However, it is well worth the attention. In a tight discourse of nearly 500 pages, the author presents his perspective on the moral challenge posed by global warming. If the text alone were not enough, ample footnotes on nearly every page carry details of the author’s arguments. Whence the title? The author states that “… climate change constitutes a perfect moral storm that threatens our ability to behave ethically.”
Gardiner is able to see every argument from nearly every perspective, and the treatment is thorough on most items. The author goes past covering whether global warming is real or not (he firmly thinks it is) and focuses on what we are morally bound to do about it. He poses the moral problem as an intergenerational one and one that has to do with justice for the disadvantaged. Take, for instance, his statement that “… many of the victims of our bad behavior (the poor, future generations, and nature) lack the ability not only to resist, but even to make their concerns heard.”
The most clever chapter of the book may be Chapter 9 in which the author draws a long and solid analogy between the behavior of certain characters in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and that of principal geopolitical characters in the world climate forums. In both cases he demonstrates moral corruption, one at a very small scale and the other at global scale.
One of the themes he returns to often is that our current political systems are possibly incapable of dealing with the problem, if in fact they have not already shown it. The problems that local communities or even nation states have dealt with in the past are not global in extent, and the methods at their disposal are not developed or refined enough to deal with the current global moral challenge. He says “Perhaps existing institutions and theories must be radically reconceptualized to reflect new global and ecological realities…” With states failing, he even suggests that the burden falls back on individual citizens to take action, as in many other cases where the states could not seem to meet the challenge (think abolition, for instance).
The author makes a very cogent case for the fact that we (individuals and political entities) are failing to meet the climate crisis. He points out that this has been true for two decades now and that the outlook becomes grimmer with every year of inaction. His final sentence in the conclusion to Chapter 11 says that “… what we do now falls far short of any morally defensible goal.” Chapter 12, a discussion of the immediate future, begins with “We face a looming global environmental tragedy.” The work of Gardiner should be required reading for all who are working to mitigate global warming and especially all who are politically engaged with this problem at the world level.
Lastly, the author discourages waiting for solutions to come by “luck”. This approach is “morally impermissible, and a sign of deep corruption.” Some of the “luck” solutions may be a geoengineering breakthrough, a significant cost reduction in renewable energy sources, or some natural feedback mechanism that miraculously cancels global warming. Waiting for such a solution is not only reckless; but, were it to happen, we would escape from grappling with the moral challenge sitting before us now and therefore not progress as an intelligent species.