19 September, 2008
The second workshop explored climate change as a challenge to human future 'planning'. Tipping points introduce a new element of uncertainty into future climate prediction. They do this through discoveries of new feedback mechanisms accelerating the rate of sudden, dramatic change, for example. Given such uncertainty, our task is to evaluate the political and ethical bases of planning and 'risk management' operative around the globe today. As a starting point, the workshop will consider the common perception of climate change, alongside terrorism, as a threat to national security (particularly by the United States) and the basis for military intervention in resource shortage 'hot-spots' or in oil-rich regions. Global warming hits poorer nations harder and sooner, through drought in the Sahel or the failure of the Asian monsoon, for example. As such it is likely that the gap between rich and poor will increase and escalate risks of global conflict. Another example concerns the security paradox of nuclear energy. As they approach peak oil production, nuclear countries propose to counter climate risk (ecological catastrophe) with the possibility of nuclear risk (proliferation of weapons; terrorist threat).
A situation far removed from Ulrich Beck's notion of the cosmopolitan 'world risk society' (Beck 1999) that aspires to find common causes and needs though shared risks emerges in the scenarios mentioned above. They suggest, that is, an ethics of risk that operates a kind of pre-emptive protectionism: rich nations 'manage' conflict by securing access to the natural resources that would spark those conflicts. New social dynamics of risk therefore need to be investigated in relation to climate change. In a world of perpetual insecurity governments are likely to tighten security measures both abroad and at home. In such a climate we need to reassess the role of citizenship. For if, as it is predicted, billions become displaced environmental refugees across the world, it is uncertain which ethics people will fall back upon in reaction. Universal human rights? A theory of the common good? Regionalism? Or a new environmental nationalism?
Contributors to this workshop may wish to focus on initiatives that attempt to oppose an ethic of isolationist fear and insecurity. This may function at an individual, community or global level. There may even be an argument for an ethic of risk-taking in the sphere of political action if such an action is deemed necessary to make others 'sit up and listen'. This workshop will also seek to make sense of our ethical language within a world of risks located in the future. Are the timescales used in scientific and political projection of the future adequate to the task of, to use a few examples; calculating cause and effect; attaching moral costs to our present carbon emissions; considering the moral status of ecosystems deemed past the 'point of no return?'
Suggested presentation themes
- Climate change and the war on terror
- Global conflict and peak oil
- Risk Society
- Gender impacts of 'security' agenda.
- Development and Population
- Immigration, Borders and Human Rights
- Communities of risk-taking
- Government security strategy
- Nuclear Power and risk