Climate Change, Risk and Responsibility
2010 (32) Issue 1
Guest-Editor: Friedrich Breyer
Global warming has arguably been the topic which has drawn the most attention both in the media and in academia and even in international politics over the first decade of the new millennium. Moreover, climate change is a typical field for interdisciplinary research: while natural scientists try to predict the impact of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on average temperatures, climate events (such as floods, droughts and hurricanes) and sea-level rise over the next century and more, philosophers discuss the responsibility of the present generation for the living conditions of future generations as well as the responsibility of the developed nations for the plight of the less developed ones. Sociologists study public awareness of the long-term effects of present behaviour, economists try to develop efficient instruments for preventing future catastrophes without prohibitive costs, and political scientists study mechanisms of international coordination of climate protection activities, to name only a few popular research questions.
It is therefore timely that the foundation ’Umwelt und Wohnen’ (’Environment and Living’) at the University of Konstanz chose the title ’Klima und Energie im Spannungsfeld von Risiko und Verantwortung’ (’Climate and Energy in the Context of Risk and Responsibility’) for an interdisciplinary symposium which was held in Konstanz on June 19, 2009. Most of the papers presented are collected in this issue with several additional contributions from philosophy and sociology which fit well into the general topic helping to complete the picture.
The discussion is opened by the physicist Gerd F. Ganteför who advances the provocative thesis that a man-made population explosion is a much more urgent problem than the global warming scenario, and, since there is a negative correlation between per-capita income and fertility, that it is imperative to increase the per-capita GDP (gross domestic product) of the least developed countries. This in turn requires huge amounts of affordable energy which can only be provided by coal, natural gas, crude oil and uranium. Thus, in contrast to the political mainstream, the author is convinced that the wide-spread transition towards renewable energy sources will not solve the pressing problems of the 21st century.
In contrast to this sceptical view, many philosophers depart from the climate predictions of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and ask whether present generations have a responsibility to limit climate change to protect the living conditions of future generations. Notably Dieter Birnbacher studies the problem of global climate change from the point of view of distributive justice, both intra- and intergenerational. On the basis of a version of utilitarianism, he argues that the polluter-pays-principle should be applied to reduce emissions, whereas obligations of compensation should be ascribed according to the criterion of overall economic strength. Peter Rinderle challenges what he sees as the utilitarian hegemony in recent discussions on global climate change by defending the possibility of a contractualist alternative. Three principles of climate justice are suggested on this basis: a sufficiency principle securing basic human rights, a principle of justice giving each generation a right to realize its conception of justice, and a principle of reciprocity requiring us to take responsibility for the reception of benefits and the causation of harm. A more specific ethical problem involved in a possible climate change is addressed by Alexa Zellentin, namely the possible migration streams which might evolve as a consequence of whole areas such as island states in the Pacific Ocean becoming uninhabitable due to climate change. She argues that climate migration differs from other forms of migration in that entire communities will be forced to resettle elsewhere and she discusses conditions which would have to hold in host countries to preserve the dignity and self-respect of these communities.
One particular problem with predictions of climate change is their tremendous degree of uncertainty, even in the Knightian sense of an inability to name all possible events and to attach probabilities to them. Two contributions to this volume address the uncertainty issue. First, Gregor Betz starts from the Knightian distinction between deterministic, probabilistic and possibilistic foreknowledge, and discusses the latter in the context of the global climate. The question is raised how to justify possibilistic predictions including the identification of the worst case. Betz points at a methodological dilemma which emerges when possibilistic predictions are framed in traditional terms and argues for a new conceptual framework which distinguishes different types of possibility. Raffaela Hillerbrand aims to show that modeling complex systems inevitably involves non-propositional knowledge and thus the uncertainties associated with the corresponding model predictions cannot be fully quantified. This is exemplified by means of the climate system and climate modeling. The climate system is considered to be a system that is complex with respect to some features, while simple with respect to others. This distinction is of practical significance for political decision-making as it allows some climate predictions to be treated as (fairly) certain, while acknowledging high uncertainties with others.
While the former contributions are mainly concerned with the possible consequences of climate change, the following two sociological papers deal with environmentally sound behaviour which may help to prevent or at least postpone climate change. Axel Franzen and Dominikus Vogl use surveys to compare the development of environmental concern and mobility behaviour in Germany and Switzerland. They show that the proportion of survey participants who express concern about the state of the natural environment is high in both countries but has not increased during the last two decades despite the ongoing public debate about environmental issues. Furthermore, they show that the sizable reduction in gasoline consumption in both countries is due to rising gasoline prices rather than a change in attitudes. On a more general level, Ulf Liebe gives an overview of the theoretical approaches to explaining pro-environmental behavior. The author shows that the predominant theories in the field are the Theory of Planned Behavior (TOPB) and the Norm-Activation Theory (NAT). The author argues that further research would benefit from more standardization in empirical applications, from more competitive theory testing as opposed to integrative theory testing, and from an evaluation of approaches on theoretical grounds as opposed to focusing solely on empirical performance.
The last two contributions are concerned with practical policies towards climate change. Till Requate discusses German and European climate policy from an economic standpoint. In particular he studies the question of whether the instruments chosen by the EU and laid out in Germany’s environmental policy, notably the subsidization of renewable energy sources, are suitable for achieving the ambitious EU climate goals in an efficient manner. Requate argues that while the target of a 20 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions is feasible at a reasonable cost, derived targets such as a share of 20 per cent of renewable energy and 20 per cent efficiency increase are expensive and superfluous. The last paper by the political scientist Miranda Schreurs takes a closer look at the environmental policy of the most important player in the global climate game, the U.S.A. and asks what changes have occurred since Barrack Obama moved into the White House. Now, at least carbon dioxide is viewed as a pollutant, and Obama has raised fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, and targeted millions of dollars in spending for renewable energies, energy efficiency, and research related to climate change. Furthermore, Schreurs predicts that the United States will be more engaged in international environmental negotiations and implement a more active environmental programme in the future than it did during the past decade.
Table of Contents
Title: A Provocative Thesis: Oil, Gas, Coal and Uranium Are Indispensable Energy Sources for the Poor Countries
Author: Gerd Ganteför
Abstract: An integrated approach of the topics 'population', 'energy' and 'climate' results in conclusions contrary to public opinion. Population growth will lead to disaster ten times faster than global warming. 2.5 billion people in the poor countries account for a population growth of one billion every 12 years. Fertility rates decrease with increasing gross domestic products (GDPs). Increasing GDPs correlate with increasing energy consumption. Wind power and solar energy are too expensive for the poor countries. Low-price energy can only be produced with coal, gas, oil and uranium. Therefore, many more coal-fired power stations and nuclear reactors need to be built and hopefully population growth will slow down. Once population is stabilized environmental issues can be addressed.
Title: Climate Responsibility as a Distributional Issue
Author: Dieter Birnbacher
Abstract: It is evident that the problem of global climate change is closely bound up with questions of distributional justice, both intra- and intergenerational. Questions of justice are raised by two kinds of burdens: reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases, and the financial and knowledge transfers necessary to enable the poorest countries to compensate the harms suffered by the ongoing process. Both burdens involve considerable costs and opportunity costs. On the backdrop of a prioritarian version of utilitarianism, it is argued that the answer should be a split strategy. While reduction of emissions should be based on the polluter-pays principle, obligations of compensation should be based on the criteria of overall economic strength.
Title: Climate Justice. A Contractualist Perspective
Author: Peter Rinderle
Abstract: The aim of this paper is to question the utilitarian hegemony in recent discussions about global climate change by defending the possibility of a contractualist alternative. More particularly, I will raise and try to answer two questions. First: How can we justify principles of climate justice? As opposed to the utilitarian concern with maximizing general welfare, a contractualist will look at the question whether certain principles are generally acceptable or could not reasonably be rejected. Second: What do we owe to future generations in these matters? Three principles of climate justice are suggested: a sufficiency principle securing basic human rights, a principle of justice giving each generation a right to realize its conception of justice, and a principle of reciprocity requiring us to take responsibility for the reception of benefits and the causation of harm.
Title: Climate Migration. Cultural Aspects of Climate Change
Author: Alexa Zellentin
Abstract: This paper argues that climate migration in case of climate refugees in a strict sense differs from other forms of migration not only by its finality but also by the fact that entire communities are forced to resettle elsewhere. For such communities to migrate with dignity that is in a way that protects the social bases of their self-respect their host countries are required to ensure the necessary institutional arrangements enabling these people to become full and equal members within a reasonably short time. Ensuring that their equal participation rights are not merely formal but have ’fair value’ requires taking cultural differences into account to ensure that they do not pose substantial disadvantages for participation in the political and social sphere.
Title: What's the Worst Case? The Methodology of Possibilistic Prediction
Author: Gregor Betz
Abstract: Frank Knight (1921) famously distinguished the epistemic modes of certainty, risk, and uncertainty in order to characterize situations where deterministic, probabilistic or possibilistic foreknowledge is available. Because our probabilistic knowledge is limited, i.e. because many systems, e.g. the global climate, cannot be described and predicted probabilistically in a reliable way, Knight's third category, possibilistic foreknowledge, is not simply swept by the probabilistic mode. This raises the question how to justify possibilistic predictions including the identification of the worst case. The development of such a modal methodology is particularly vital with respect to predictions of climate change. I show that a methodological dilemma emerges when possibilistic predictions are framed in traditional terms and argue that a more nuanced conceptual framework, distinguishing different types of possibility, should be used in order to convey our uncertain knowledge about the future. The new conceptual scheme, however, questions the applicability of standard rules of rational decision-making, thus generating new challenges.
Title: On Non-Propositional Aspects in Modelling Complex Systems
Author: Rafaela Hillerbrand
Abstract: This paper aims to show that modeling complex systems inevitably involves non-propositional knowledge and thus the uncertainties associated with the corresponding model predictions cannot be fully quantified. This is exemplified by means of the climate system and climate modeling. The climate system is considered as a paradigm for a complex system, whereby the notion of complexity adopted in this paper is epistemic in nature and does not equate with the technical definition of a complex system as for example used within physics or complexity theory. The epistemic notion of complexity allows to view the climate system as complex with respect to some features, while simple with respect to others. This distinction is of practical significance for political decision making as it allows to treat some climate predictions as (fairly) certain, while acknowledging high uncertainties with others.
Title: Social Reactions to the Climate Debate in Germany and Switzerland
Author: Axel Franzen / Dominikus Vogl
Abstract: In this contribution we take a look at the development of environmental concern and mobility behavior of the population in Germany and Switzerland. The proportion of survey participants who express concern about the state of the natural environment is high in both countries. However, this proportion did not increase during the last two decades despite the ongoing public debate about environmental issues. At the same time the demand for private transportation did increase in Germany by almost 20% (in Switzerland by 2.5%). However, fuel consumption per capita decreased in Germany by 6.5% and in Switzerland by 2.2%. Our time series analyses of these trends suggest that this reduction is due to the price increase of gasoline which was substantial in both countries and not due to any change in attitudes. We argue that further price increases are appropriate means to reduce fuel consumption. However, our analyses also show that the price elasticity for fuel is low.
Title: Different Routes to Explain Pro-Environmental Behavior: an Overview and Assessment
Author: Ulf Liebe
Abstract: A variety of theoretical approaches have been taken in an attempt to understand, explain, and promote pro-environmental behavior. The present article gives an overview, including specific applications, and identifies and discusses various strategies used by researchers to deal with the availability of different approaches. The overview includes elementary rational choice theory, the theory of planned behavior, norm-activation theory, theories of habitual behavior, and theories within a social dilemma framework. Strategies identified are 'extending existing theories by single explanatory factors', 'comparing theories' in a competitive manner, and 'combining theories' in an integrative manner. It is argued that research would benefit from more standardization in empirical applications, from more competitive theory testing as opposed to integrative theory testing, and from an evaluation of approaches on theoretical grounds as opposed to focusing solely on empirical performance.
Title: Climate Policy between Activism and Rationalism
Author: Till Requate
Abstract: This article discusses German and European climate policy, inquiring mainly whether the ambitious goals the EU has set itself can be achieved via the instruments presently employed for the purpose and whether these instruments are efficient. In particular we discuss shortcomings of the European emission trading system, we further level criticism at energy policy measures, notably subsidization for renewable energy sources and the overlap with emissions trading. Further we argue that while 20% reduction of CO2 is feasible at a reasonable cost, derived targets such as a share of 20% of renewable energy and 20% efficiency increase is expensive and not necessary. Finally, we scrutinize the latest climate-protection package proposed by Germany's environment minister.
Title: Climate Change Politics in the United States: Melting of the Ice
Author: Miranda Schreurs
Abstract: This article examines the efforts of the Obama administration and many other actors ranging from non-governmental organizations, municipalities, and state governments to some Congressional representatives to put the United States back on track towards international climate leadership. Efforts to shift policy direction, however, still face many hurdles. Over the course of the better part of a decade or more, climate skeptics and policy change opponents were able to seed doubt about the urgency of the issue in the public’s mind, establish new organizations and strategies to fight against climate action, and institutionalize serious obstacles to meaningful policy change.