The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just put out its annual “State of the Climate” report. After collating data from hundreds of scientists around the globe, the report states unambiguously that there was a “toppling of several symbolic mileposts” in heat in 2015. The report goes on to mention that the concentration of carbon dioxide plays a large role in this, and that climate change is having a severe effect on marine life worldwide.
To those who accept that climate change is very real and very dangerous, this report just adds to the massive stack of similar reports bolstering the argument that action needs to be taken now (while to those who don’t this report probably won’t be of much interest). It also will most likely provoke more puzzlement about why society has been so reluctant to do anything substantial.
This question is one that ethicists have been working to answer more and more. The issue that needs to be addressed is how to give the environment an ethical standing, such that we can recognize its existence, interests, and needs in our ethical frameworks. Since all the major ethical frameworks we have were developed in relation to humans (and even then selectively applied), reframing them to include the environment is vital to proper environmental policy. Here are several articles from recent years that have been trying to do just that:
- Paul Tomassi, “On the Metaphysics of Informed Environmental Concern,” American Philosophical Quarterly, 2003.
- Donald Richards, “Eudaimonia, Economics, and the Environment,” Ethics & the Environment, Fall 2013.
- Jedediah Purdy, “Our Place in the World: A New Relationship for Environmental Ethics and Law,” Duke Law Journal, Jan. 2013.
- Bryan G. Norton, “Beyond Positivist Ecology: Toward an Integrated Ecological Ethics,” Science and Engineering Ethics, Dec 2008.
- Gary Varner, “Utilitarianism and the Evolution of Ecological Ethics,” Science and Engineering Ethics, Dec 2008.