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Mace & Crown | July 25, 2017

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Visiting Philosopher Explores Issues of Climate Change

Visiting Philosopher Explores Issues of Climate Change
climate change norfolk

Photo by William Luo

Ben Maxie
Staff Writer

Old Dominion University’s Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs held a lecture on Tuesday, April 5 on designating blame for climate change, the responsibilities of fixing it and how to help people in developing parts of the world.

In his presentation, “Climate Change Injustice: Responsibility and Response,” philosopher Madison Powers of Georgetown University and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics discussed the outcome of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 21, and its impacts on global climate change policy.

Powers said these turn out to be not much of an impact. He said since the beginning of the talks in 1992, world powers have moved from binding, enforceable, transparent pledges to non binding, non enforced, classified agreements.

The talks put our planet on a path to reducing carbon dioxide output, but the global 7 percent reduction agreed to is “lower than the least ambitious [environmentally sound] target,” according to Powers. The restrictions adopted at COP 21 are projected to keep global temperatures just below catastrophic conditions, provided that all countries involved follow through with their commitments.

Many places, prominently island nations, would still see devastating effects with these reductions. Global carbon dioxide concentrations are already above the threshold needed to raise sea level enough to flood island nations such as the Maldives, Powers said.

climate change norfolk

A regular high tide at Old Dominion University with 5 feet of sea level rise is pictured above.

Graphic by Jugal Patel

The United Nations conservatively estimates that there will be 200-400 million climate change refugees by 2100, one factor that makes Powers and others think climate change qualifies as a human rights issue.

In order to maintain their current standard of living, developed countries must keep energy production high, resulting in more carbon output. This is problematic, as carbon emissions impact global climate. In other words, developed nations are endangering developing nations for the sake of cheap energy.

“Nation states are deeply entangled with energy sectors,” Powers said.

Since many developing nations are in no economic position to be carbon conscious, many believe that developed countries should do more to relieve the burden on more coal-dependent nations. The United States, Canada and Australia insisted that a ‘fairness clause’ be eliminated before past talks proceeded.

Powers pointed out that citizens have no responsibility to follow the orders of nations who deny human rights, and that such actions may be appropriate for climate change as well.

“One thing is clear: [climate change] is a cumulative action problem,” Powers said.

climate change norfolk

A regular high tide in Norfolk, Va. with 5 feet of sea level rise is pictured above.

Graphic by Jugal Patel