Ethics and Climate Change

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Climate Action: An Ethical Responsibility

Nations of the World Face a Moral Choice, Prepare and Survive, or Not?

The Climate Conferences Add Up, One after Another


"A Timeline of International Climate Conferences"

Accompanied by 'Trends in Atmospheric CO2 vs Global Temperature Change'


"A Considerable Threat" that has become a #ClimateCrisis

GreenPolicy360: Let us go back to the beginning when climate science was first 'coming onto the screen' and those of us who were there and part of the new environmental movement in the 1960s and 70s were bringing the science into the light...

First, here are two links your GreenPolicy360 Siterunner asks you to review --

Rep. George E. Brown -

George and Me -

Second, let's go back to the science and pick up ten years after George Brown entered Congress and began historic climate/atmospheric science work:

In 1977, the head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration delivered a report for the National Academy of Sciences that concluded that CO2 released during the burning of fossil fuel could have consequences for climate that pose a considerable threat to future society.

Energy & Climate (1977) warning of the National Academy of Sciences

Rep. George Brown took the findings of the 1977 Energy and Climate Report from the Academy of Sciences and made the science actionable. In a historic moment, he proposed and drafted the legislation of the first U.S. National Climate Program and shepherded its passage in 1978.

The National Climate Program Act, Public Law 95-367

National Climate Program Act, 1978 / PDF

This first federal program established to study and assess scientifically the issues and risks of human-caused climate change became a foundation for comprehensive initiatives, with an array of new Earth Science missions led by NASA and NOAA, the EPA and USGS.

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In 1979 a follow-on National Science Academy report, commonly referenced as the "Charney Report", is released. The study was "in response to a request from the Director of the recently established Office of Science and Technology Policy" and it stated that "the President of the National Academy of Sciences (has) convened a study group under the auspices of the Climate Research Board of the National Research Council to assess the scientific basis for projection of possible future climatic changes resulting from man-made releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere." This study and report of national scientists is now seen as prescient and accurate in its global warming predictions.

Note the featuring of J. Hansen, Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA and S. Manabe, R.T. Wetherald, and K.Bryan, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, NOAA. The Chairman of the Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate is Jule G. Charney (who years later would write of the report's accuracy in its predictions)

"[T]he responsibility of the carbon-dioxide problem is ours - we should accept it and act in a way that recognizes our role as trustees for future generations." (Charney et al., 1979) This report also estimated that the amount of warming that would be experienced from a doubling of the pre-industrial levels of CO2 would be 3 degrees C, very close to the amount that the "Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" would predict almost 30 years later."

In Geneva, Switzerland, a 'World Climate Conference' convened in 1979 under the aegis of the World Meteorological Organization, a weather and science agency of the United Nations.

"Climate Declaration"


The World Climate Conference, a conference of experts on climate and mankind, held in Geneva, from 12 to 23 February 1979, was sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization in collaboration with other international bodies.

The specialists from many disciplines assembled for the Conference expressed their views concerning climatic variability and change and the implications for the world community. On the basis of their deliberations, they adopted the following: "An Appeal to Nations"

More on Climate and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

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"Climate change is a civilization challenging ethical and moral problem and this understanding has enormous practical significance for policy." -- Donald Brown

The Ethics and Climate site contains over 185 articles (as of 2017) including 13 videos on ethical issues raised by climate change. The site seeks to help policy makers and interested citizens understand the ethical dimensions of climate change issues in contention in policy debates.

Ethics and Climate seeks to increase and deepen public reflection on the ethical implications of human-induced climate change among policymakers, the public, non-government organizations, and journalists.

The site analyzes issues that arise in public discussions of climate change policy making and identifies the ethical, equity, and justice issues entailed by these issues.

The site is written and edited by Donald A. Brown, Scholar in Residence and Professor, Widener University School of Law. Professor Brown has worked in government at the state, federal, and international level on climate change and taught the ethics, law, science, and politics of climate change for over 25 years. The site also regularly includes articles from scholars in environmental ethics, science, and law on climate ethical issues facing climate policy makers.

For over thirty-five years, the US Academy of Sciences has warned the US about the enormous threats of climate change with each successive report making stronger claims that human caused climate change is a serious threat to civilization. If the United States can be accused of failing to live up to its ethical responsibilities to the rest of the world on climate change, one cannot blame the US Academy of Sciences for failing to ring alarm bells. US citizens cannot claim that their most prestigious scientific institutions have failed to take a position on the seriousness of climate change.

The failure of the United States to respond to climate change can be attributed in largest part to a well-financed, well-organized climate change disinformation campaign. As Climate Ethics has previously cited, see "A New Kind of Crime Against Humanity?: The Fossil Fuel Industry's Disinformation Campaign On Climate Change". (Donald Brown, 2010a)

Climate Ethics has also repeatedly argued that the failure of the United States to respond to its ethical duties for climate change may also be attributed to the almost complete failure in the United States of the media and even climate change policy advocates to acknowledge that climate change raises not only national interests but also duties, responsibilities, and obligations to others.

"Tyranny of the contemporary"

Tyranny as a collective action problem in which earlier generations exploit the future by taking modest benefits for themselves now while passing on potentially catastrophic costs later.

The critical question as we seek to meet such a tyranny and address climate change will be which moral framework is in play when we make decisions. In many settings, we do not even notice when this question arises, because we assume that the relevant values are so widely shared and similarly interpreted that the answer should be obvious to everyone. Nevertheless, the values question is not trivial, since our answer will shape our whole approach.

If we think something should be done about climate change, it is only because we use our moral frameworks to evaluate climate change events, our role in bringing them about, and the alternatives to our action. This evaluation gives us both an account of the problem and constraints on what would count as relevant solutions.