“The Ethics of Climate Change”

What does philosophy have to do with global warming? Well, "science can give us a grip on the facts, but we need more than that if we want to act on the basis of those facts," says James Garvey in The Ethics of Climate Change.

Garvey summarises what moral philosophy does (gives reasons for its claims), summarises the strength of the evidence for global warming (there is no "controversy"), and then analyses various possible policy responses.

What does "discounting the future" imply for our attitude to future generations? What weight ought to be given to some version of the "precautionary principle"? And what about the US line that taking drastic action to curb global warming would be bad for the economy? Garvey doesn’t mince words: that, he says, amounts to "harming people for money". Sceptical of promises of technological quick fixes, he concludes that everyone must make large cuts to their energy use, right now.

Subtitled “Right and wrong in a warming world”, this is an excellent book to think with: Garvey has a delicious style, often very funny, and a trick of ushering the reader right inside his thought experiments; though I disagreed with his introductory decree that "A philosophy book is no place for suspense", as might other admirers of Wittgenstein.

The Ethics of Climate Change
James Garvey
Continuum Books, 2008

— By Steven Poole

Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited, 2008