The ethics of climate change (in Australia)

An Australian friend of mine used to have a cartoon on his door showing the customs hall at Sydney airport. In the background was a banner: "Welcome to Australia, No Farting!". The point of the cartoon was the ridiculousness of the Howard governments approach to climate change. John Howards’ Liberal government, which lost power to Kevin Rudds Labour at the last election, had an approach that could be characterised as ‘Living in denial’ or ‘Head in the Sand’.

Aussies may have lost the rugby at Murrayfield (mwah haha ha ha ha) but they are not as a nation any more stupid than the rest of us. 60% of Australians polled in 2008 agreed with the following statement:

Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs.

-a progressive and thoughtful response. Another 32% believed in lobal warming but that the effects would be gradual and could be dealt this as they crop up. The latest poll shows that now only 48% of Aussies agree with the above statement although 76% agree global warming is a problem.

The Aussie government had agreed a deal with the opposition to pass legislation to act on climate change by introducing an emissions trading scheme. But now the BBC reports, a new opposition leader, Tony Abbot, is opposed to the deal, threatening its’ passing. Australia has the highest carbon emissions per capita in the developed World. Australia is an incredibly fragile continent which has recently been ravaged by forest fires and a prolonged drought. These are difficult to link directly to climate change but suspicions exist.

This brings me to a philosophical question:

If anthropogenic climate change is a possible reality aren’t we ethically bound to do something about it?

I am not arguing that we need to adopt a zero growth approach but rather that the risk  of climate change should be enough to justify action. The Aussie Liberal and National Parties are being incredibly short-sighted. They are penalising whole elements of their society in order to protect unsustainable interests. The risk is spread across the whole of society while the benefits are acrued by many fewer.

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