Friday, April 12, 2019

Climate Change Ethics and the Problem of End-State Solutions

The Oxford Handbook of Global Justice. Oxford University Press, 2019


How best to response to climate change is one of the most pressing challenges facing us all. There is no uncertainty about whether it is happening, only the likely negative effects beyond the short-term. The need for a compelling analysis of what to do is more than a question of justice, but a matter of human survival. The stakes could not be higher.

Proposed solutions come in one of two approaches. Each takes a different route to addressing the negative effects of climate change. The first is conservationist and seeks to minimise these effects by reducing, if not eliminating, them by bringing climate change to a stop. This can take form of advocating the use of an ecological footprint or implementing a polluter pays principle. The second is focused specifically on adaptation mostly through technological advances to help us endure climate change by minimising its effects on us. Many theorists advocate some use of both approaches in tandem as climate change is happening making necessary some form of adaptation and conservationism together. Yet it is also clear that most give greater weight to either conservation or adaptation as the primary mode of securing climate change justice.

The dilemma for these proposed solutions is in their aim of being a solution to the problems that climate change brings. In short, they mistake the kind of challenge that climate change presents us. This is what I call the problem of “end-state” solutions. It is where we attempt to bring to an end a circumstance that might be influenced positively or otherwise by our activities, but beyond our full control. So to claim a so-called “solution” to such an everchanging problem could make it better or worse without concluding it. If climate change is this kind of problem – and I will claim it is – then end-state “solutions” can be no more than a band aid (or sticking plaster) and the nature of our challenge is different requiring an alternative future strategy. This chapter will set out how the problem of climate change is understood through attempted solutions that do not succeed. It concludes with some ideas about why this matters and the arising implications for how we should think about climate change justice beyond the false prism of end-state solutions.


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