IPPP co-hosts debate on climate change ethics with Wilson Center

Updated: Aug 3, 2018

What will lead us to a safe and sustainable future: appealing to ethical arguments or or pragmatic national interests?

To shed light on this question, Stephen Gardiner, a philosophy professor at the University of Washington, and David Weisbach, a law professor at the University of Chicago, take up two sides of this debate in the new book, Debating Climate EthicsIntroductory remarks were made by IPPP member, David Morrow.

The Paris Agreement last year has been heralded as a sea change in global climate change policy. For the first time in 20 years governments have agreed in principle to limit emissions and created a platform to encourage increasingly ambitious responses. But is the outcome a just one? And does it matter?

Please join the Wilson Center and the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University for a lively debate between two of the most trenchant scholars on the human dimensions of climate change and the relevance of ethics in creating global climate policy.

Stephen Gardiner argues that climate change is fundamentally an ethical issue. A robust response must attend to difficult issues, including justice, rights, political legitimacy, and humanity’s relationship to nature. Consequently, climate policy that ignores ethics is at risk of “solving” the wrong problem, perhaps even to the extreme of endorsing forms of climate extortion.

In contrast, David Weisbach argues that existing ethical theories are not well suited to addressing climate change because they suffer from internal logic problems and suggest impractical strategies. He argues that the central motivation for climate policy is straightforward: it is in the common interest of people and nations to dramatically reduce emissions in order to prevent terrible harms.

Gardiner and Weisbach are co-authors of Debating Climate Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2016). This is their first public appearance together since its publication this month. Following their debate, a panel of climate policy practitioners and academics will discuss the practical implications of this exchange. A continental breakfast will be served before the event begins.

Photographs of the event can be found here.