Sunday, February 12, 2012

Climate Change & Ethics

I have been thinking about this post since Donald Brown, Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law at Penn State University, wrote a blogpost entitled "An Ethical Analysis of the Climate Change Disinformation Campaign: Is This A New Kind of Assault on Humanity?"  He outlined the campaign against climate science and went on to write "We are not trying to limit free speech but encourage people to see that lying or misinformation is deeply ethically problematic particularly in cases when deception can lead to immense harm."

I will be the first to admit that I have not consider the ethical implications of man-made climate change or the tactics used to attack the science.   I have been more concerned about the science and challenging those spreading science myths and disinformation.  Considering ethics seemed more of an academic exercise and one that most would find hard to understand.

Granted, I am taking a risk in exploring this issue.  Therefore, I started with an easy question; what is ethics?  I looked at several dictionary responses, but I didn't get much information from them on ethics.  Turned out that the answer was not easy or succinct.

Finally, I stumbled across a post on the internet that seemed to answer the question and was long enough to give a flavor for the subject.  I found it at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.  The post "What is Ethics?" seemed to give me the answer I was looking for in a succinct way.  I highly recommend reading this. 

Back to Donald Brown.  He teaches interdisciplinary courses on climate change and sustainable development and writes a blog through the Rock Ethics Institute called Climate Ethics.  It is one of my climate links on this blog.

I have found the posts interesting.  However, don't think for a minute that you will whiz through his writings and grasp it.  I find it takes some time to absorb what he is saying and its implications, but well worth the effort.  He writes in a way that is understandable, so take your time with this and I think you will be rewarded. 

At the beginning of the year he started a four-part series on the ethical analysis of the climate change disinformation campaign.  The first post was: Ethical Analysis of the Climate Change Disinformation Campaign: Introduction to a Series.  It deals with:

(1) Why ethics requires great care when considering, discussing, and debating uncertainties about climate change impacts.
(2) The consensus position on climate change science and why it is entitled to respect despite some scientific uncertainty about the timing and magnitude of climate change impacts.
(3) The need to acknowledge the important role of skepticism in science even if one is deeply critical of the tactics of the disinformation campaign.

(1) Examined what is meant by the climate change "disinformation campaign" and how it has operated.
(2) Conducted ethical analyses of the following climate disinformation tactics:
a. Reckless disregard for the truth.
b. Focusing on unknowns and ignoring knowns.
c. Specious claims of "bad" science.
d. Front Groups.
The third post, Ethical Analysis of Disinformation Campaign's Tactics: (1) Think Tanks, (2) PR Campaigns, (3) Astroturf Groups, and (4) Cyber-Bullying Attacks, deals with the final four tactics. 

Dr. Brown writes " The next and last post in this series will translate lessons learned from issues discussed in this series so far as the basis for developing normative guidance for responsible climate science skepticism."  This final post will likely come in the next couple of weeks.

Keep in mind that a few scientists, many politicians, conservative think tanks, PR campaigns, and assorted individuals will continue to behave as they do and will continue to attack climate science for there own vested interests.  However, there are ways to be skeptical and ethical that would greatly enhance the conversation.