As a moral philosopher myself, I might not be expected to groan at the reporting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) decision to engage the services of John Broome, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford University. Yet if Professor Broome really thinks what he is reported as writing in Scientific American the problems are with his moral philosophy itself. For climate change, like most politically charged issues these days, is not amenable to ‘elementary’ moral philosophy which so easily comes across as dogmatic preaching based on shallow thinking. It is not self-evident that fewer people being born would be bad for the future of humanity or the rest the earth’s ecology. Nor is it obvious that everything we do for our own benefit harms others in a way that deserves compensation – the opposite assumption from free market economics and just as open to question.
I do not cavil at including philosophers in dealing with climate change, although anyone working for the IPCC needs to show sensitivity to political and economic realities as well as to the hard science which must underpin all arguments around climate change. I hope Professor Broome will seek to cultivate such sensitivity himself. In particular, it is surely time for the IPCC to ensure attention is paid to the recent decline in solar activity, which would normally be expected to mean the earth cooling over the past 20 years rather than warming merely levelling off as the records suggest. Meanwhile, the theory that heating may have gone down into the deep ocean needs to be investigated. Those points would at once show attention being paid to science proper, recognition of the possible risks to future generations, and directly challenge the dubious arguments being put up by climate change ‘sceptics’. Where moral philosophy can come in is both to open up the argument over why every country is driven by a misguided patriotism (more than economics as such) to concentrate on short term benefits only, and to frame the practical arguments into a wider picture. I wish Professor Broome the best in this, but the start is not promising.
One other brief point on a related topic: Alice Thomson in The Times of 11 September is, probably rightly, optimistic about the concern of ordinary British people for their local environments. But why should anyone suppose that the Conservative Party, or its equivalents elsewhere, could be naturally a party of environment conservation? Conservation of national identities means keeping up with the global race, i.e., doing exactly what Mr. Cameron (now) says.