Moral Responsibility on Global Climate Change

Want a non-military related example of the principles I referred to in my recent post, “Moral Responsibility is not Anti-Americanism”?

Think the Kyoto Protocols.

Back in December, the very first act of the government of newly elected Australian Prime Minister Rudd was to ratify the Kyoto Protocols. This leaves the U.S. as the sole remaining developed nation which has not committed to the agreement. The Democrats, who are so willing to campaign on environmental issues and sustainability, have been tepid at best in their efforts to promote the treaty. Republicans have sneered, scoffed, and actively opposed any cooperation in the agreement.

There are a few different reasons which people give for resisting Kyoto. Some simply refuse to believe in human-influenced global climate change (though their numbers dwindle over time). Or they might accept some problems, but insist that those ills can best be cured by a laying off of hands, so that the omnipotent and omnipresent panacea of The Market can work its mighty miracles. They reject the Kyoto requirements because they might potentially have negative consequences on the U.S. economy (a strange protest, as global climate change is much more likely to wreak worldwide economic havoc if left unchecked). Those can all be argued at another time. But the most common, and yet least sensible, reason I’ve heard is that Kyoto is “biased” against the U.S, setting a higher bar for us and others among the developed nations than it does for “developing” nations—including such populous and polluting nations as India and China. The Senate in 1998 unanimously (that is all senators, Republican and Democrat ) passed Resolution 98, which asserted that the U.S. would not become a signatory unless emissions requirements were standardized for all nations. The Bush administration, to the extent that they have even acknowledged the human impact on atmospheric carbon levels and climate change, has used this as the excuse for dismissing Kyoto.

“It isn’t fair! ” is the essence of this argument. “Why do we have to and not them?

Very mature.

Certainly, we should be concerned with the incredible levels of pollution created by the rapidly industrializing juggernauts. I would strongly encourage China and India and the rest to be responsible for their emissions levels and to seek a more sustainable path to development. But we need to consider the moral principles I discussed as we examine at the situation. We need to take a good look at ourselves as we address the issue of global climate change rather than point fingers elsewhere.

We have been the primary cause of carbon emissions for more than half a century. It was either created by us, or created by other nations as they exported resources or goods to feed our voracious consumption, or created by other nations seeking to emulate the very attractive U.S. consumer lifestyle. It is only just that we should take responsibility for it.

Developed nations have a great deal which we can sacrifice in order to cut emissions. Our standard of living is better than the vast majority in developing nations by several orders of magnitude. We, “those who have,” can certainly change our culture for the good of the planet. Developing nations, which are still grappling with rampant poverty, malnutrition, and a dearth of resources necessary for a secure life for its population, have much less to sacrifice.

If our nation is to be the world leader we like to think it is, we need to be willing to lead. The Savior showed that leadership is less about ordering others around than about blazing the trail, sacrificing, and serving others.

Our nation should sign Kyoto or some other similar international agreement. Our commitment should not be based on whether others have the same level of commitment, or whether other nations have disingenuously signed without strong intent to fulfill their goals. We should have the integrity not only make a concerted effort to hit the targets, but exceed them. We should use our vast resources, ingenuity, and will to provide the model of how a nation can embrace sustainable development, and secure a health lifestyles and communities for its citizens. Once we have done so, we will have the moral authority to exhort other nations to join us on that path. We will have the experience not only to show the developing nations what they can accomplish, but help them to avoid the pratfalls we’ve found and the errors we’ve made in the past.

That is leadership.

The reticence of our elected officials has put us behind the game. But I’ve no doubt that we can galvanize our politicians if we impress upon them our concern for good stewardship of our planet and a mature sense of moral responsibility.

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10 Responses to “Moral Responsibility on Global Climate Change”

  1. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I have to say, I really don’t have a testimony of global warming, to borrow from gospel vernacular. I find the alarmists both obnoxious and overly dramatic. But I have no doubt we’ve been abusing the earth for years, and if we can come up with viable options, there is nothing but good that can come of reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

  2. Jennifer Says:

    “We have been the primary cause of carbon emissions for more than half a century. It was either created by us, or created by other nations as they exported resources or goods to feed our voracious consumption, or created by other nations seeking to emulate the very attractive U.S. consumer lifestyle. It is only just that we should take responsibility for it.”

    Amen!! To deny these facts is to show arrogance/self-righteousness/pride beyond measure… Aaron’s right that we have been “abusing the earth” far too long. We have lots of options but lack the political will to abandon the status quo. We have brilliant engineers and technology to make it happen, if people want it bad enough.

  3. D. Sirmize Says:

    Sorry to interrupt the stream of lockstep “Amen!!” comments you get on this blog, but if you want to convince conservative earth-haters like me that sacrificing the economy to stop global warming (or climate change, or whatever your calling it these days), you’re going to have to convincingly answer the following questions:

    1. Even if all signatories meet greenhouse gas emission targets (which will never happen, but let’s go with it), there is no evidence that global temperature will be affected. Aside from your “morality” argument, what’s your practical rationale for such a costly experiment?

    2. According to the International Energy Agency, as much as 85 percent of the projected increase in CO2 emissions over the next 20 years will be produced in exempt countries like China. As long as China is exempt from Kyoto (or the like), what evidence shows that the rest of us – even in unanimous die-hard commitment- can put a dent in the climate change problem?

    We have a moral obligation to be good stewards of this earth. I do not feel morally obligated to support international treaties that would slow wage growth, widen the rich-poor gap by eliminating the middle class, or raise taxes. Government action is will coerced. Coerced morality is not morality at all.

  4. Jeremy Says:

    I was putting together what I thought would be a perfect response to this post. It kept coming out too long so I gave up.

    Thank you D. Sirmize for saying what I wanted to say in a much more concise manner than I was able to put together.

    Before we go on and on about our “moral responsibility” on global climate change lets get some idea of what we are talking about will cost. Does anyone know what some of the estimated costs would be for the United States to actually adopt the Kyoto protocols?

    Derek argues that the costs of not stopping global warming are worse than what we’d have to pay to cut back enough on CO2 discharges to make a difference. I haven’t seen any evidence to support that cost/benefit analysis.

  5. Cameron Says:

    Some of my hesitation to jump on the “we’ve got to do something” global warming bandwagon is the unintended consequences of the actions we take. Consequences like starvation and food riots.

    Another source of concern is the fact that ice core records indicate that historically temperature changes have come before increases in CO2 levels.

  6. jennifer Says:

    Cameron, your link for consequences was about biofuels, which is one proposition for aiding our current quagmire. … no one here suggested it as cure-all. Solutions need not threaten the food supply – Rather, encouraging more local food production would ease the oil consumption for shipping.

    Jeremy – your concerns about costs are important – but while we are looking for hard numbers, let’s remember the “hidden” costs of the status quo. We are paying, and will continue to pay, high prices for the unsustainable lifestyle we have created – – it’s just not clear from the price tag on an item. Let’s be honest about the true costs of coal plants, SUVs, apples from China, etc.

    Sirmize – – – China is a real problem in the equation. If they are really firing up a new coal plant each week, then it doesn’t much matter what Europe does, or the US. But cleaner air to breathe should merit concern regardless of climate change or not. Outcries abound regarding China hosting the Olympic games amid heavy smog, and even here on the Wasatch Front, there are many pollution-related illnesses each year, and it has gotten noticeably worse during the past 20 years. Is illness an appropriate price to pay? Treatment too?

  7. Cstanford Says:

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. I especially like your phrase about curing ills by a laying on of hands – it seems The Market is the most fervently-worshiped god of all now, even among those who profess other allegiances.

    It’s interesting to see how worked up people can get at any suggestion that they might have to sacrifice or cut back even a little bit.

    And I appreciate Jennifer’s last post: there are plenty of bad things about air pollution even without the question of climate change.

    (By the way, I’m blogging again: – I didn’t know how else to let you know.)

  8. Frank Staheli Says:


    Interesting that you would think that The Market is the most fervently-worshiped God. This may be true in some parts of America, but not all, and the socialist couch-potato Europeans have given up on it. They’ve decided that their only-worshiped God is government.

    The Market you deride is the only (dwindling) alternative to world-wide selfsameness. Ironically, those who have lost their liberties don’t even realize it.

    At the top of the food chain, the Man-Caused Global Warming Crusade is a sheer power grab. The elite of the world couldn’t bear to let the continent of Africa get its hands on the free market.

  9. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Thanks for the feedback. I’m keeping several of the points in mind for elaboration in future posts. For now:

    Cameron, I agree with concerns about relying on biofuels. While I’m very intrigued by the potential for recycling used cooking oils as fuels, I don’t believe that ethanol or any other biofuel is the deux ex machina. Technology can be an important tool in helping reduce carbon emissions and other pollutants, but I believe that the ultimate solution is to reduce our consumption. Period. We must become a less materialistic society.

    Jennifer, good point about the hidden costs. While I think that some, like Jeremy, are very earnest and honest in their call for cost-benefit and other analyses, I think many others are ready to cook the books, and use the numbers to rationalize the status quo. Any cost-benefit analysis must be very carefully observed, administered, and triple-checked.

    Thanks, CStanford. Its great to hear from you again! And if you will indulge me in a little unrighteous pride, I was rather pleased with the wordplay about the “laying off of hands.” It rather captured the laissez-faire philosophy and the reverence in which they hold it.

    Frank, I think you’re a bit hyperbolic regarding Europe and its moderated capitalism. They’ve hardly gone out-and-out socialist. Which nation there has abolished private property? Which nation has embraced anything Marx, Lenin, or Mao would see as a paradise. But there are indeed many in this nation who worship at the altar of the Market; the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the conservative talking heads on radio and TV…

    I would posit that it is the market which is selling us the worldwide conformity and ubiquitousness we see encompassing the globe. It is the market putting a McDonalds on every corner, a Wal-Mart in every community, a Lowe’s every few miles. Assimilation seems to be a result of globalization.

    Do you really believe that it is the liberals, the global warming crusaders who are desperate to repress Africa? Or is it perhaps the corporations, who delight in wage-slaves and cheap resources who don’t want the African nations to come into their own and develop leverage? It isn’t the global warming crowd who are the “elites” of the world.

  10. Cstanford Says:

    A truly free market could offer diversity and vitality, but the market we have now is not nor has ever been truly free. I second Derek’s last comment.

    Furthermore, even with a truly free market prevailing, as soon as it became an end to itself that would be the beginning of the end of its freedom. The global market is a product of flawed humans and it has the potential to be a great and humane servant, but it has become master and, yes, god. And I repeat: it has never been truly free.

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