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Climate Change and Philosophy at the Tipping Point

Date: 28 March 2011 Time: 10am - 5.00pm

Venue: The Storey Institute, Meeting House Lane, Lancaster

28th - 29th March 2011

Organised by the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion,

Lancaster University

Funded by the Royal Institute of Philosophy and Society for Applied Philosophy

Open to all - attendance free.

There is still time to register, contact John Foster,

Anthropogenic global warming is certainly occurring. Over the coming decades, one of the key issues that will face humanity is how to deal with it. This conference asks: Is it now too late to stop runaway climate change? Or are we still in with a chance? Either way, can philosophy help?

Hitherto, philosophical concern with these matters, whether in ethics or in other areas of the discipline, has overwhelmingly assumed its practical context to be the need to avoid seriously adverse environmental consequences of global warming. But voices are now increasingly to be heard in the policy domain, suggesting that the question is no longer how we avoid such consequences, but how we go on hoping and acting after the recognition that they are coming. If that is right, very large ethical and epistemological issues (at least) may need to be re-thought. What different senses might we have to make of obligation, justice, the scope of scientific knowledge and the nature of humanity in a decisively warming world? Or are these questions still premature? - is there still philosophical work to be done which could help avert such outcomes.

We believe it is time to confront philosophy directly with these challenges. The topic is of key public concern and the conference will also be open to interested members of the public.

Day 1 - Monday 28th March

09.30 Registration

09.50 Welcome and introduction

10.00 - 11.30 Should egalitarians discount the future?

John O'Neill, Hallsworth Professor of Political Economy, University of Manchester.

Intergenerational egalitarianism based on discounting has enjoyed a revival since the Stern Review. In a growing economy, future generations will arguably be better off and so better able to meet environmental costs. Does not justice therefore demand that we redistribute these costs from the present to the future? This paper argues that, to the contrary, we have good perfectionist grounds to improve the lives of future generations, and grounds of justice to avoid harming them.


12.00 - 12.45 Climate change, civil disobedience and political obligations

Simo Kyllonen, Department of Social and Moral Philosophy, University of Helsinki

Are new forms of civil disobedience licensed by the defence of "lawful excuse" provided by the potentially disastrous impact of anthropogenic climate change? Does our understanding of citizens' political obligations in democratic societies need to change accordingly? This paper explores these and related questions about the justified practices of citizenship.


14.00 - 14.45 A scientific solution and arguing for its implementation Laurence Goldstein, Professor of Philosophy, University of Kent

Most discussion of global warming, including within environmental philosophy, has hitherto been about how we could slow its speed - little has been about how we could actually reverse the process. But if we are currently meeting global energy demand by methods that warm the polar regions, a logical solution would be to draw energy from cold regions, thus achieving a cooling of these regions. This paper argues that the technology is available, once we see the need.

14.45 - 15.30 Climate engineering, indeterminacy and the human condition Bron Szerszynskiand Maia Galarraga, Centre for the Study of Environmental Change, Lancaster University

Technologies for geo-engineering the atmosphere are increasingly being canvassed as political progress towards CO2 emissions reduction falters. But how do we grapple with the ethics of such interventions, and what kinds of hazard do they pose? This paper draws on Arendt's framework for analysis of the human condition, with reference also to Heidegger and Castoriadis, to explore these questions and their implications.


16.00 - 17.30 The very idea of 'Sustainability' Rupert Read, Reader in Philosophy, University of East Anglia

Liberalism in its environmentally-conscious forms of 'sustainability' and 'sustainable development' will fail to address ecological problems because it always puts us (present humans) first, and seeks to move away from the status quo as little as possible. We need instead a politics which sees future people as equals who are powerless in relation to us, and correspondingly puts them first.

Day 2 - Tuesday 29th March

10.00 - 11.30 After illusion: realism, philosophy and hope, John Foster, Research Fellow in Philosophy, Lancaster University

What if we actually took seriously what some eminent climate scientists are already saying: that more than 20C of warming will be disastrous, and we are now clearly going to exceed 20C? What deters us from accepting such admittedly bleak realism?- where are the existential roots of denial in all its varieties? And if we finally came out of denial, how could we possibly go on hoping? All these questions call for philosophical work: if not to help avert disaster, then maybe to help retrieve our humanity in confronting it.


12.00 - 12.45 The environment, myth and motivation, Andrew Godfrey, Birkbeck College, University of London

Attempts to avert, mitigate or adapt to climate change all need to be informed by an adequate theory of the relations between knowledge, motivation and action. It appears that the communication of propositional knowledge about environmental impacts does not suffice to motivate necessary changes. This paper seeks to account for this by drawing on a Wittgensteinian / Nietzschean distinction between merely intellectual knowledge and knowledge that has been integrated into a particular 'picture' or 'myth'.


14.00 - 14.45 Unpredictable Earth System - philosophical responsibilities, Mark Charlesworth, Keele University

We need to move away from irrational Baconian assumptions about the predictability and controllability of nature for human benefit, especially as embodied in neoclassical economics. Runaway climate change is essentially unpredictable due to the unknowns surrounding tipping points and climate inertia. We must develop the capacity to respond to this unpredictability. Forms of virtue ethics and virtue epistemology are leading candidates for more rational responses.

14.45 - 15.30 Politics, philosophy, religion: an interdisciplinary approach tocontemporary environmental debates

Ghayas Chowdhury, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University

The possible limits of Western philosophical thinking in relation to climate change are explored in this paper from the perspective of the Islamic tradition. At both theoretical and practical levels, Islamic ideas can illuminate philosophical attitudes and human behaviour towards the natural world. Equally, this tradition may be resistant to some of the Western philosophical assumptions implicit in the sustainable development model, with implications for the practice of Muslim countries and environmental organisations.


16.00 - 17.30 Ethics and action on climate change, James Garvey Secretary, Royal Institute of Philosophy

To what extent can the moral demand pressed on us by climate change push us into action? Human beings, despite knowing something about morality and about our warming world, have done little or nothing about climate change. Why is this, and what might get us past whatever it is that stands in our way to taking real action? What good philosophical reasons might we have for doing little or nothing about our changing world? The thought that it makes no difference what we do is a part of our hesitation - what, if anything, can we do about this thought?

End of conference


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Politics, Philosophy and Religion PPR


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
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