This weekend I was one of 40,000 people who took part in the Climate March in London. The event was one of more than 2,000 taking place in 150 countries to urge political leaders to take action on climate change. Before we set off I was interviewed and asked why I was marching and why I believe it is so important for governments across the globe to act now.
I tried – and I think failed miserably – to answer in a coherent and intelligent way. But last night I remembered a really brilliant paper by the philosopher Stephen M Gardiner in a 2006 edition (15.3) of the Environmental Values journal. I’ll try and sum the paper up quickly, but I’ve posted a link to the full article at the bottom of the page.
In short, Gardiner describes how the features of climate change pose substantial problems to our ability to make the choices necessary to address it – describing the climate change problem as a convergence of a set of global, intergenerational and theoretical problems or ‘storms’ to create a ‘perfect moral storm’.
Gardiner claims this perfect storm in turn helps to obscure the ‘lurking problem’ of moral corruption that’s also to blame for the failure of governments and political leaders to act.
In brief, the ‘global storm’ and the ‘intergenerational storm’ arise out of the dispersion of causes and effects, the fragmentation of agency and institutional inadequacy. In the first storm these characteristics have a spatial theme (i.e. emissions from one geographical location affect the whole world) while in the second storm these characteristics have a temporal theme (i.e. climate change is a time-lagged phenomenon that is substantially deferred).
A third storm concerns how ill-equipped we are to deal with many problems characteristic of the long-term future. He argues that even our best theories face severe difficulties when it comes to dealing with scientific uncertainty, intergenerational inequity and more.
“Since climate change involves a complex convergence of problems, it is easy to engage in manipulative or self-deceptive behaviour by applying one’s attention selectively, to only some of the considerations that make the situation difficult. At the level of practical politics, such strategies are all too familiar.” Gardiner, S. 2006, p408
I reference this paper, not as an apology for inaction, but as a sign of what we are all up against and as evidence of why it is so important that we continue to fight for real change as loudly and as often as we can.