Tag Archives: climate change

Charles Eisenstein, Climate: A New Story (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2018)

Glancing at the Table of Contents, I felt a certain unease growing when I saw section titles like ‘The Revolution is Love’ and ‘An Affair of the Heart’. For a book about climate change, I was worried that this would be a hippie-style, get-back-to-nature affair that would avoid the brevity of the science and the urgency of the issue. However, as I started to read, I found myself refreshed and heartened, albeit not without the occasional twinge of cynicism, which is most likely the result of my adherence to many of the narratives Eisenstein criticizes.

I’ve studied and taught environmental ethics and philosophy for many years and believe this book would be a valuable contribution to my course reading lists for students at various undergraduate levels of study, and for those looking to add a different perspective on climate change to their research agenda. Not just for philosophers or environmental studies majors, this book would be helpful for students across disciplines interested in climate change, including media, cultural studies and other humanities and arts courses, especially as it challenges dominant narratives and representations of various aspects of the issue. It is well-researched and supported, while maintaining the clear and focused voice of the author throughout, who demonstrates a breadth of knowledge spanning environmental science, economics and politics. The only surprise to me was that key environmental thinkers, like Arne Naess and other deep ecologists, are not mentioned at all. Some mention of Naess, as his position of self-identification with nature seems to so clearly overlap with what Eisenstein is endorsing, would only strengthen and deepen these claims that we ought to change our way of being in terms of Self and its relation to nature.

The twelve chapters of this book cover a wide range of topics, not all directly related to climate change. This is because for Eisenstein the critical issue related to climate change is our crisis of being, and is based on the “constriction, numbing, and diversion of our capacity to feel empathy and love” (6). The belief systems that underlie our various social and environmental crises are inseparable from the dominant narratives that run through our civilization, with the ‘standard narrative’ of climate change being problematic because of how the issue is framed (7). Rather than focusing on reducing carbon emissions or implementing carbon taxes, we should instead, according to Eisenstein, focus on creating a language and belief system based on healing nature and ourselves, and that implicitly recognizes the interconnectedness of all life. He borrows the term ‘interbeing’ from Thich Nhat Hanh to refer to the idea that our individual self is not individual at all, but rather intertwined with all life so that any harm to nature is experienced as harm to oneself. Instead of being myopically focused on the urgency of climate change, we ought to include other social issues like racism and poverty in the same set of considerations, as “…healing on any level contributes to healing on every level” (28).

After examining the views of climate change deniers and skeptics, along with some good reasons why we might have sympathy for their views given the uncertain nature of climate science and scientific methodology in general, Eisenstein makes what I believe to be his most important point: Even if we are uncertain about where we stand in relation to the climate change narrative and overall debate on its causes and prognosis, we all know that we are in deep trouble. The planet is dying (82). Environmental degradation is obvious and undeniable in our immediate surroundings, and although we may lack agency to directly face the issue on a global scale, we should attend to the protection and restoration of the soil, water and ecosystems on a local level.

Despite the book’s title, it only has two sections entirely devoted to climate change. The first lays out problems with the standard narrative on climate change and emphasizes the mistakes and harms posed by the reduction of this problem to just a single cause, namely carbon emissions. The standard defeatist narrative on carbon emissions causes us to feel helpless, overwhelmed, and paralyzed. Eisenstein’s solution is to focus on the local. We can heal our ecosystems at the local level, and the positive results will reinforce the associated behaviours. However, what we ought not do, according to Eisenstein, is scare people into action as the dominant narrative does.

Another key point of the book is that we need to recognize what we are losing through destruction of the natural environment. By seeing our losses, such as damaged ecosystems and extinct species, and by fully feeling these losses, we can finally acknowledge and move into grief (138), and only then will we change our everyday actions and routines. On this account, climate change is addressed indirectly through the mobilization of individuals, and by changing our general orientation to climate change and nature.

What is refreshing about the book is the author’s open admission that his call for a revolution of love sounds utterly unscientific and romantic. Eisenstein discusses inner conflict and some embarrassment of his seemingly sentimental conclusions about how we ought to address such an urgent issue, and yet Eisenstein maintains that it is only through the direct experience of nature and coming to love it and the earth that we can start to effectively address our environmental problems. Eisenstein further lays out his ideas for healing the various systems of the earth in sections devoted to forms of regeneration of living systems; to challenging dominant notions of ‘development’, capitalism, money, growth, and debt; and to implementing a new ‘ecological economy,’ as more fully explained a previous book, Sacred Economics. He also provides an analysis of our over-reliance on science, claiming that such an over-reliance is problematic because based on underlying beliefs that the earth is an inanimate object rather than a living being of the Gaia variety.  Eisenstein rightfully points out that if we believe that nature is ‘dead’, then it seems difficult to find reasons to care for her (253).

The book concludes with suggestions for creating environmental health and planetary healing. A list of principles useful to facilitate local change, the restoration of ecosystems and fairly major economic reforms that do not include carbon taxes or anything that directly addresses climate change is provided.  While Eisenstein acknowledges his view can seem idealistic, he does believe real change to be possible on its basis. The book ends by calling on each of us to do what we can, where we can, to bring healing to ourselves, our local ecosystems and our planet (278).

I would have enjoyed seeing more connection to related thinkers and perspectives to draw out and acknowledge the existing conversation on environmental values and climate change, but as it stands this book provides some much-needed passion and honesty about the underlying ideological causes of climate change that need to be addressed beyond the science. Eisenstein has me convinced that we really do need a revolution of love to save our planet, without the need to sacrifice rationality and science.

Demonizing 2020: A Calendar Year Becomes an Effigy Doll

This is not a scholarly article. It is rather a set of my observations and opinions sparked by the massive scorning, cursing and trolling of the year 2020, which can now be encountered abundantly all over the internet, other media, and in private conversations. This article does draw upon general knowledge of ethics, philosophy, sociology, psychology and history but, nevertheless, it remains within the scope of my personal and highly limited worldview. The idea of the article is to show why such treatment of a calendar year is highly erroneous and immoral, and how it mirrors a general imbalance in human scale of values.


The Setup or The Importance of Every Stone

Firstly, what is a calendar year? I have never asked myself that question until now, simply because the answer seemed trivial to the point where the question itself loses any purpose. The year is comprised of the 365 days between the midnights of January 1 and December 31. The two dates are marked as the moment that human beings typically prefer to celebrate with fireworks, travelling, partying and excessive eating and drinking. More specifically, a year is a mental construct, which is confirmed, measured and distributed by mechanical devices we have developed in order to control the temporal aspect of our experience of being. A second is an idea, so is a year – finally, that makes our division of time a construct forced upon nature. Surely, the temporal placement of the end of the year does follow the pattern of the four seasons – it is comfortably imagined as the first act of winter, the time when people of the past had to slow down, take a rest, and, following nature’s pattern, prepare for a new start. However, do not forget that this correspondence between the end of the year and nature is valid only for the moderate climate belt, more precisely, for most of Europe, and it only reveals the Eurocentric nature of our past rather than any solid connection that the 365 days long period could have with global climatic reality on Earth. Finally, different cultures used, and still use, different calendars to mark the end of the year at different times.

The other important fact which anchors the year into the natural order comes from further observations of the Earth’s surface – it comes from the movement of our planet through the dimension we named the Universe. In these 365 days, as many ancient astrologists noted centuries ago, our planet makes a full circle around the Sun. It is realistic to understand this as an ultimate proof that the one-year period as a mental construction is indeed intrinsically rooted in natural laws, however, in my opinion, there is yet another issue we have to consider. That issue is human binary thinking; a shared mind setup which forces us to divide everything into units that, according to us, can be subdivided into smaller building blocks which always include one beginning, a duration, and one ending. In that sense, humans maybe could have agreed a long time ago that ‘a year’ is half of the Earth’s trip around the Sun, or perhaps two rounds. In the first case, the year today would be 4042, in the latter 1011. Although this would follow some rules of binary logic, it would break the principal one: ‘completion’. One year must be one full turn with a distinctive beginning and ending. It is interesting, just as a short aside, that humans, although they are intrinsically a binary-thinking species, fervently reject the idea of two basic endings in their logical constellation, the ending of their lives, and the ending if the Universe. To bypass their anxiety about dying, they constructed beliefs that later developed into spiritualties and religions, and the theories for avoiding the discomfort caused by the lack of knowledge about the Universe developed into scientific postulates of the Universe being ‘infinite’.

If the entire Universe is based on strict binary logic, which I find hard to believe, then it surely has an ending (maybe it is exactly the shift from binary into a different logical system that marks this ending), or better said, a spatial border where it turns into a slightly or significantly different system. Of course, you can persist in calling that other system ‘the Universe’ as well, but keep in mind that Columbus called the Caribbean Islands ‘India’. What is a non-binary thinking? I do not want to go into this, as it would take too much time and detach me from my main theme, but one thing is for sure: in a non-binary logical system, time would be something entirely different. We almost surely would not need ‘a year’, or any other such measurement at all. To conclude, my opinion is that the idea, based on binary logic, that one voyage of the Earth around the Sun forms a one ‘year’ period, although based on a natural cycle, is still is largely a human mental construct imposed on nature.

Now, imagine there was a specific ‘year’ long period that was perceived by humans as so misfortunate that it became evil itself, a time so globally detested, even by those with serious educational backgrounds, that it became the year that ‘everyone wants to forget’, a symbol of ‘cruel and unjust nature’ taking it out on our poor species. This is, of course, ‘the cursed’ year 2020, the year that destroyed our small human dreams with viruses, bad weather, earthquakes, difficult economic conditions and depression. The Internet and the media these days are burning with mournful and vindictive messages, such as: ‘2020-Go Away!’ or ‘2021, save us from the beast!’ The year 2020 itself was transformed into a global effigy, and everyone around the world is invited to cast a stone at it. In my opinion, this belies a deep problem in the human perception of reality, an intrinsic systematic error, much more dangerous than, for example, flat Earth theories, which are based almost solely on ignorance. The year 2020 is being publicly burned as an effigy at a global carnival celebrating the most frightening limits of human perception. This human behaviour also shows that we, as a species with a set of cultural practices, have not made significant progress from tribal origins based on fear and ideas of safety rooted in collectivism. This also inevitably makes us a naïve species, and, although an easily lovable one, rather sad, and fated in the sense of Greek tragedy. But much more importantly, this attitude towards a calendar year shows our darkest side: an utter lack of morality and any sense of responsibility, issues I will touch upon individually in the next passages. For now, as a quick and perhaps displaced observation, I will just note that our civilization viewed from the Universe might look like a dangerous skin disease on the planet’s surface.

Human beings have managed to shoot a few members of their species out into the surrounding Universe and safely return some of them to Earth. There are two comments that I would like to offer here, even at the risk of the first comment sounding arrogant and ignorant. Launching anything from the surface of anything, and getting it back down, is a matter of sheer physics. It takes a large number of competent scientists to calculate the physics of every part of the voyage, including all variables and possible scenarios. This is, indeed, a complex and time-consuming process that takes a lot of knowledge, dedication, courage, preparation and even creativity. Trips into the Universe are arguably the peak of our technological development. However, these trips are based solely on mathematical calculations – almost endless sequences of numbers, exact results and approximations as well. Numbers. It is my personal opinion that calculating an orbit and then constructing the device that can execute that orbit is certainly an amazing accomplishment but philosophically as trivial as scoring a point during a basketball game. Not to mention the fact that for such space endeavours we use fossil fuels and create tons of terrestrial and atmospheric waste. Human beings continue to destroy the planet in the course of the production of these fuels and the technical components required for space travel (all of which cost billions, while every second on Earth an infant life is taken by starvation). That such advanced knowledge and the rockets that are its expression are seriously employed for the planned evacuation of their species once they have entirely ruined the Earth only shows that homo sapiens has fallen into an abyss of immorality and lunacy.

Here comes my next comment on our amazing technological development: Every square millimeter of untouched nature on Earth is more important than anything humans have ever achieved. Every stone matters, and, if the stone has to be moved or destroyed, it has to be done in accordance with the laws of nature that preserve global balance, the balance we and everything around us depend on. In other words, although a human being or an animal can move or even break the stone, although the water, sunlight and temperature will inevitably damage the stone over time, that stone has its own rights. Let us call them the legal rights of every stone. This law is natural law. The first central tenet of the law is, what I call, the ‘temporality of balance’. We all know by now that everything around us changes, for example, mountains descend due to erosion, new islands are born from lava, lakes get sucked into ground after earthquakes, the sea level constantly changes, continental masses are slowly moving, the climate is in constant shift, entire rain forests turn to desert, various species disappear and new ones emerge. All these changes happen at a pace strictly determined by the logical laws of nature. This pace is typically slow, in the sense that it gives time for species to adjust (‘slow’ in that sense, because in every other sense ‘slow’ is too ethereal to define). Of course, there is plenty of evidence that some global changes in nature were abrupt and that they have caused mass extinction of numerous species. However, even these abrupt changes were always the result of natural causes and exercised upon and with natural materials, in other words, nature only rapidly rearranged itself. There was no, for example, plastic involved, let alone depleted uranium. In that sense, abrupt global changes in nature, although very rare, were themselves natural in essence and in their result. However, the majority of changes on Earth, and in the known Universe, are perfectly adjusted to the need of ‘slow and gradual’ evolution and survival. That pace of temporality of balance was never constant. We now know that most changes in nature at some point accelerate exponentially. That is usually the case in the later or final phases of every change. Even that final acceleration of pace does not put ecosystems in jeopardy; on the contrary, it opens space for natural new beginnings.

It is interesting to note that all living beings, not just humans, to an extent interfere with the temporality of balance. It seems that the simpler life forms are employed to control the stability of the pace of changes, and that is their contribution to this balance. More complex life forms can sometimes display a behaviour that can be described as egoist and borderline destructive. For example, an elephant is able to destroy and kill a tree just to get a decent scratch on its back. On a funnier note, they say the most potent natural source of carbon-dioxide on the surface of the earth is in the intestines of cows, and that, if all the cows in the world would simultaneously empty their carbon-dioxide stashes, the atmosphere would be in serious trouble. The fact is that cows will never do that. And a herd of elephants destroying trees for pleasure will never lead to the extinction of forests.

Let us imagine that both elephants and cows display a human-like intelligence. Elephants would mark their own parts of forests and motivate other elephants (who are excluded from forest ownership) to scratch their backs on their trees. For that service, they would ask for money. In the advanced phase of greed, elephants would motivate their friends to not only scratch when they really need a scratch but every time they want to amuse themselves. That would lead to the destruction of forests, and elephants would have to find new forests for exploitation. Eventually, that would lead to the extinction of all forests, and elephants would be left in scorching sun, some of them penniless, some of them rich, but none of them able to get a decent scratch, nor food, for that matter.

Considering cows as well displayed aspects of human intelligence, it would be enough for one of them to announce that releasing carbon dioxide anally is a spectacle that elephants would gladly pay to hear – and all of the cows would start greedily releasing gases. Some of them would start overeating to produce more gas and thereby generate more profit. Then, some of the cows would start producing plastic balloons for ‘take away gas’. Elephants would buy these balloons, laugh at the sound of the gas released from them, and eventually throw the used plastic balloons on the ground. The resulting overexploited and barren pastures could not renew themselves due to the high level of carbon dioxide in the air. Both cows and elephants would become extinct. The only thing left would be reeking winds carrying non-degradable plastic waste. We have to understand that either elephants or cows would eventually become extinct or evolve into a new species over time. The time determined by the temporality of balance, and typically spanning millions of years. But with human intelligence, cows and elephants would, I suppose, become extinct much more quickly.

This illustrates our biggest crime against nature – we as a species have irreversibly accelerated the pace of the temporality balance. This is now a different type of balance – one that will not spare us any possible consequences. How did we speed up the pace of change? Quite simply, by moving the stone. Crushing it to powder. Painting it with chemical color. By exploding it, or sealing it into concrete. By radiating it. By not realizing that the millennia-old lines carved in the stone were just as much a work of art as any of, for example, Dali’s paintings. By thinking that there is any deity above that stone. The disrespect for one stone led to the destruction of the entire planet.

We often hear that the theories of global climate change are a hoax. That the changes were happening anyway, and that humans had very little or nothing to do with accelerating them. That the planet has let us down, and we will simply atom bomb Mars to create atmosphere and move there. In my opinion, even without climate change, but with the current intensity of human activity, the planet would soon become too toxic to live on anyway. But climate change is here as a logical consequence of our toxic behaviour, and it will shorten our time to develop immunity to our own toxins, making our extinction (or, at least, that of most of us) quite evident. Unfortunately, with us and because of us, even the innocent species like elephants and cows will disappear. Furthermore, those who talk about human innocence in breaking the first tenet of natural law are typically either the rich and powerful or the ignorant. Both need to believe in human innocence simply because the first group offers scratching, and the second group needs it. All this for a handful of dollars.

Let us now return to human space expeditions. Imagine if Nature personified were to appear at the launch site of a space rocket and order humans to make the launch three times faster. All the scientific calculations would be in vain because the balance of human calculations would be disrupted. Humans would be left only with an unrealistic hope that the space voyage would take the same course even with altered physics. This is what we have done to nature’s temporal balance.

My final remark on the temporality of balance is the sad fact that human beings cannot restore its natural pace by further interventions, even ‘positive’ ones. In this unforgiving circle of logic, every human action, even those with good intentions, cause further changes, which trigger new chain reactions. It is a bit like the plot of the Back to Future movies. Whatever we do with unnatural materials, especially on a large scale, seems to bring just as much damage as benefit. And for good reason: We do everything in an unnatural way and with unnatural materials because we are a species entirely detached from nature. In that respect, it would be perhaps the best for humans to entirely suspend activities and ‘development’ for a century or more. Just remember how much nature has gained in a few months of human quarantine due to the Covid-19 virus. Of course, the notion of people giving up their plastic dreams is almost a utopia in itself. Extinction appears to be the correct ending.

The second basic tenet of natural law is the justifiability of actions. By actions, I mean all the activities that alter our environment. That covers everything from starting a fire, plucking a flower, hunting and fishing, to demolishing mountains for stone quarries and murdering rivers with dams. It is clear that almost all the actions by animals in nature are entirely justifiable. And those rare actions by animals that cannot be justified are never massive, serial, organized, globally or statistically significant. On the other hand, humans have to learn that nature is not something God-given to them to exploit, alter and ruin. That one stone – that is the god, and parts of untouched nature are our last true shrines. We are here to benefit from the land and protect it, rather than to overexploit and subdue it.

I have noticed a repulsive process in my homeland that is related to tourism – ecologically one of the most detrimental branches of the economy, which I will illustrate in a hypothetical example. Imagine a small fishing village in relative isolation, connected to other, larger settlements by a narrow road. The village consists of ten old stone houses. Villagers fish mostly for their own needs, they create very little waste, they are relatively poor but have everything needed for survival. They are also relatively healthy, and a few villagers are older than 100 years of age. Around the village are barren stony hills carved by the natural elements for millennia. On the slopes of these karst hills are small herds of sheep. Where the hill slopes meet the sea, the power of water has carved sandy beaches of indescribable beauty.

At one point, the villagers realize that people in other settlements earn more and more from tourism. They try to lure tourists to their village but in the beginning it is hard. Only the adventurous tourists visit, and they leave with stories of untouched nature and hidden virgin beaches that only a few outsiders have had the chance to enjoy. The word spreads, and more tourists wish to visit the village. Investors recognize the chance for easy money. They offer villagers impressive amounts of cash (at least to the villagers) for barren plots of land close to the sea, which were for centuries considered basically worthless. Some villagers become incredibly rich. They immediately rebuild their old houses and add apartments and rooms for tourists (these additional rooms, floors and objects typically lacking any aesthetic value). The investors level the beaches and surrounding terrain and cover it with concrete. This is to make the tourists’ approach to the sea easier. They devastate large portions of natural land to create endless parking spaces. They carve into the slopes of the hill to build hotels and restaurants, with sewers (as was the practice through the most of the twentieth century) running directly onto the beaches. Now new private concrete apartments are built, each with its own concrete approach to the sea. The village suddenly consists of forty edifices, most of them weekend and summer houses, and hotels. The road to the village is widened. The village is now packed with people during the summer. They produce an enormous quantity of garbage that the investors do not care about, and the villagers do not know (or do not want to know) how to dispose of. The approach to the virgin beach is paved. The plot of land between the road and the beach is privately owned, and the owner now decides to level the natural wild wooded area, to create a large concrete-covered parking lot that will make him millions.  He also adds kiosks selling drinks and souvenirs. The beach becomes a large swimming pool for an army of tourists. Fast forward a decade or two, the village now is a small town that stretches all the way to the virgin beach. All natural soil is carved up for the foundations of new houses, all natural surfaces are levelled and either covered in concrete or turned into small gardens that remind humans of their triumph over nature. The sea along the littoral belt is devastated – there is basically no life in the sea except for black and brown algae. The beaches and adjacent surfaces are covered with waste, especially plastic, and soaked with gasoline and other chemicals. The landscape that was being created for millennia is devastated under the pretence of justifiable development and the legitimate human need for profit. Although promised a better and longer life, the villagers are living under stress, with only a few of them reaching the age of 80. It is the year of the pandemics and the tourist facilities are empty. Investors and villagers are on the verge of bankruptcy. They are anxiously sitting in their poisoned town, cursing the year 2020.

Needless to say, this attitude towards nature is not justifiable. This is terror. If the villagers kept their stones and cliffs and beaches in the original, natural state, they could have made the same profit on each and every one of them. This is so because the tourists, although perhaps less numerous, would pay more to see untouched nature, and they too would treat it with more respect (and of course, the villagers also would have had the option of not entirely giving up their traditional way of life in the first place). Instead, the villagers have sold their land out, they have devastated it and, instead of acting as hosts, they acted rather as pimps. Human beings have to finally understand that levelling a piece of ancient wooded land in order to make a parking space is not justifiable. That covering the cliffs on the beach with concrete to make easier approaches the sea is not justifiable. That implanting concrete pillars into the cliffs so that the tourists could anchor their yachts a few meters from sandy beaches is not justifiable. Or that turning small wooded areas into posh mini-gardens is not justifiable. The stone is the most important, it should not be altered but we should rather adjust to it. Now imagine another thing. Human beings enter the museum to admire Michelangelo’s David. But, alas, there are problems. Firstly, David is naked, and that disturbs some of the humans. So they cut off the monument’s genitalia. Furthermore, the sculpture is too large to fit in a mobile phone photograph. So they cut it into two pieces to allow accessibility. Now the problem is David’s left arm is raised, and he is looking downwards toward his left side – so if you want to get a clear shot of his face, the hand is basically on the way. So they cut his left hand into pieces. White marble is so passé, so they paint it some more vivid colour, for example, an oily yellow. Next to the severed torso of David, they open a wooden kiosk where they sell pieces and chunks of David’s left hand to tourists.

And this is exactly what we are doing to the nature on which we depend. If you would so much as spit on the statue of David, you would finish in jail. Hence, it should not be difficult to accept that killing a natural stone is not justifiable.

The third basic tenet of natural law is that all materials should be natural and chemically unchanged. When our ancestors burned stones and extracted metals from them, this was already a significant intervention into the natural order. However, this cannot be compared with the damage created by chemically altered substances such as plastic or radioactive materials. There are two basic problems with chemically altered materials: They do not decompose quickly enough, and they typically disintegrate into smaller particles which have the same chemical features as the bigger chunks of material they originated from, hence nanoplastic pollution and radioactive winds.

Naturally, nothing could have prevented humans from creating such things as plastic and radioactive materials. Our civilisation largely depends on them. But what we could have done, as highly intelligent creatures that have walked on the Moon, was to use these materials more cleverly, and to store and recycle these materials in the most effective manner possible. It all comes down to this: We should have made sure that the contact between the natural materials and the plastic and radioactive materials was kept to the minimum possible level.

And what have we done? Let us return to the devastated ex-fishing village. Nanoplastic is in the soil and in the water. From there it enters the air. This plastic comes from the tons of plastic bags that we exorbitantly give out in shops, it comes from the over-packaging of our goods, it comes from a plethora of mostly useless and trivial plastic products that we so full heartedly purchase and that quickly finish in our waste, and now these microscopic poison bugs are everywhere. Furthermore, the villagers, when they were busy levelling wooded areas, filled the holes in the ground with debris left after construction work. This landfill is full of plastics, and now it is releasing poison under the layers of decaying concrete. Finally, (and please do understand that this is only an innocent example) there was a NATO bombardment taking place a few countries away, and the military airplanes extensively used the air corridor stretching just over the village. At some point, the airplanes had to get rid of unexploded projectiles, so they ditched them into the sea (and, mind you, this is totally legal according to the international law) just a few miles away from the virgin beach. The sea splashing the shores of the village is now two times more radioactive then a few years ago. As the shells of the projectiles continue to decompose, the radioactivity in the region will rise accordingly.

To wrap up this section (hopefully not in plastic), I will use a visual example to describe the importance of every stone and the effect of even the tiniest interventions into our environment. Imagine one-meter square of a barren, desert land (Figure 1). The land is seemingly lifeless and arranged entirely by the seemingly random rules of natural physics. The wind is blowing from the upper right corner toward the lower left corner. There are only five bigger rocks on the land, and one struggling desert flower sheltered behind the rock number four. The flower gives bloom every year in March. The land has been unchanged for at least the last 200 years. Every March, a group of scientists come to the observation point in the lower left corner.









What the scientist observe is the following:

  1. Stones have moved another 0.8 millimeters toward the lower left corner, as compared to the previous year.
  2. It was a statistically more arid year, so the flower bloomed a week later than the previous year, nevertheless, the sweet scent of its flowers could easily be felt in the wind.
  3. The winds were of usually observed intensity and direction.
  4. Traces of bugs were noticed in the sand; they seem to be distributed in circular paths around the stones, which is telling of the insects’ behaviour.
  5. At this pace of change, this land will remain practically unchanged for at least one more century.

Now, what happened is that some irresponsible humans arrived soon after this observation. What they saw was just a useless and lifeless plot of land. They rearranged the stones by rolling them around. They also took two stones away as memorabilia. What happened next is a mass extinction of the insects and worms living on the land. The flower dried out. The scientists returned next March and they found the plot in the condition shown by Figure 2.









The scientist observed the following:

  1. Unfortunately, the stones were moved and taken away and this led to the land being more exposed to the wind.
  2. Exposure to the wind caused the surface erosion to double, at least; this led to the land being more unstable and arid.
  3. Changes in the land lead to the extinction of insects; numerous exoskeletons of dead insects were noticed; surviving insects must have moved to different plot of land that offers more shadow.
  4. The flower had a deep and well branched root, so, when deprived of the protection of the large stone, the flower succumbed entirely and dried off; miraculously, the root has sprouted another smaller flowering stem in the protection of a new stone.
  5. Although the winds are now stronger, the scent of the flower cannot be felt anymore at the observation point due to flower’s new location.

To some, Figure 1 and Figure 2 might seem exactly the same. Who cares about a few stones being rolled over a piece of barren land? However, this illustration shows how even the smallest intervention in our environment always causes significant changes. Every stone on Earth really matters. Even the smallest changes cause micro-tragedies and triumphs, let alone the massive alterations of environment that human beings have been practicing ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The most important lesson for humans to learn from this example is that, unless it is a matter of life and death, they have no right to roll even one stone in the most insignificant of deserts.

Maybe you are wondering how this highly intelligent species, which has sent people into the Universe, never realized this painfully obvious interconnection of our environment to everything in it. I believe there were a lot of people who had not realized this basic natural law in time. On the other hand, there were people who were aware of what was happening from day one. Those belonging to the middle class chose to ignore the situation in order not to fall out of their comfort zone. The elite remained silent in order to protect their wealth.

In that respect, there is Figure 3 showing that same one-meter square plot of desert land in 2020. The land is now entirely covered with tarmac (the plot is a part of a parking lot in front of a fast food restaurant situated in the desert). On the tarmac, there are oil stains. The wind brought a used Covid-19 mask that got stuck on the oily surface of the tarmac (the restaurant is closed due to the pandemic).


The Stunning Immorality of 2020 Escapism

The year 2020 was statistically the hottest ever measured. Consequently, the year was marked by extreme weather. We have lived through floods, violent storms, devastating tornados, wild bushfires, and constant earthquakes, just to mention a few examples. This year has seen the biggest retreat of glaciers. According to scientists, there is comparatively little ice left on the planet’s poles. The melting permafrost has caused landslides and craters to collapse in muddy soil. Volcanoes have awakened.

We lost several animal species this year. On the other hand, an enormous quantity of rock was crushed into sand and used for concrete. Thousands of kilometers of pipeline were added to the oil distribution network. While China continues to rapidly devastate its land in order to industrialize its countryside, the four largest and most powerful countries in the world are led by extreme populist maniacs or/and reckless nationalists (I refer to the US, Brazil, Russia and India). The country that has taken on the role of global policeman, the US, has proved to be a society with a very questionable talent for democracy. I have no doubt that, if Stalin could see the state of American society as it is today, he would experience multiple orgasms. Needless to say that America under the current installed president carried on with its dirty wars and incredibly unjust political engineering all over the world. The Brazilian dictator, on the other hand, devastated a large portion of the Amazon rainforest. Russia is led by a person we know more about than our own grandparents – he has been with us that long. He is a dangerous little man, who, astonishingly enough, is sometimes seen as the voice of reason compared to his American counterpart. And India is in a new mode –  extreme nationalist full speed ahead. It is, I guess, a matter of luck that I do not need to add the UK and their current leader to this list (and that surely would be an exhausting task) because the UK, and probably soon just the Kingdom of England and those who decide to stay, will become less geo-strategically important than, for example, the Falkland Islands.

In short, although the number and extent of catastrophes does not stand out when compared to many other years in the past, 2020 is a perfect introduction to a story of total ecological collapse. Furthermore, it is the year when the Earth, and especially people from western cultures, was left without the moral and military guidance of the usual superpower figureheads. Regardless of the fact that all the ecological problems that escalated in 2020 were the result of everything that our species has been doing since the 1850s, and regardless of the fact that the previous ‘moral’ guidance of the established superpowers was deeply corrupted and tremendously unjust, I do acknowledge that the year 2020 was quite a shock even for the most pessimistic among us. And I do believe that every next year will pose more and more obstacles for the human species. It is a fairly logical presumption in a world where the word of Chomsky is worth much less than the word of Musk. Whose car is still orbiting the Earth.

Two Objections

Of course, what we will remember 2020 for are not these lurking demons of doom but rather the Covid-19 virus, the clumsy little bugger that stole our dreams and privatized a whole year, maybe even a longer period. With what right and how dare it? In this short and condensed set of observations, I will not give the virus too much time or too much credit, even though it has claimed about 1,835,000 human lives at this writing. I will rather focus only on how humans have decided to blame everything on the calendar year 2020. In the following passages I will consider two principal objections to this massive demonization of 2020 on the internet and in the media, these two objections being number one, the loss of any realistic perspective, and number two, the transfer of responsibility.

The first principal objection, the loss of any realistic perspective, can be observed in the following set of facts: 1. Everything that has happened in 2020 is the result of happenings in previous years. 2. The pandemic situation was something about which scientists had warned us a long time ago. 3. The Western societies revealed how truly spoiled and weak their members are once expelled from their comfort zones. 4. The Covid-19 situation exposed how utterly insensitive Western societies are to the suffering of those outside their cultural circle.

As for the first fact, it seems that humans see 2020 as a period entirely isolated from the rest of history. Perhaps this comes from an ecstatic fear that leads to an urge to wrap 2020 in plastic and just keep silent about it – that I cannot confirm. But it is hard to understand that even educated people believe that 2020 was a ‘year went wrong’ rather than a logical continuation of everything that went on before. And it is even more difficult to understand that they believe that 2021 will bring ‘salvation’. In that respect, those posting on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., refer to those who lived to see the end of 2020 as ‘survivors’. In their highly delusional manner, they continue to congratulate the survivors for surviving the evil year that decided to crash us all. And, of course, they wish 2020 to die in pain on December 31, midnight, local time. In the forty-two turbulent years I have spent on Earth, I do not think I have ever witnessed such mass hysteria before, even during the war.

The second fact, that we were forewarned, reveals a very interesting feature of human nature: Knowing is not enough for believing, on the contrary, not knowing is often more than enough to believe just about anything. Pandemics are something that followed the human race from the very beginning. Just mentioning the twentieth century and the Spanish flu is enough to illustrate this peculiar relationship between human beings and expansions of deadly viruses. I guess the second half of the twentieth century provided humans with a feeling of false security, which lead to a widespread opinion that ‘this could not happen to us’, despite all the warnings. However, something similar has happened every so often – there were several outbursts of viruses related to the Covid-virus family that caused epidemics in some Asian countries.  But that was far from Europe, far from Northern America. Who cared? On TV we watched Asians wearing facemasks and we considered that to be farfetched, weird and nerdish. We still did not believe that this could, and sooner or later would happen to us all. And then there were American catastrophe films dealing with the theme of deadly viruses wiping out our civilization. I guess these films strengthened the idea of global pandemics being a matter of science fiction and undemanding entertainment. And then, in 2020 we are in the midst of it, the whole of humanity in the same boat, in the times of pandemics. After waves of incredible false news, misinterpretations and conspiracy theories both from laymen and, unfortunately, some people of science, humanity is closed off and quarantined. After that, a relatively peaceful summer period followed, and then, with lower temperatures, the virus is back. This is when, starting in October, I first noticed posts on social media which claimed that ‘we cannot wait for this year to finish’ or ‘hold on friends, just a few months left and we are saved’. What would follow were replies of people wishing each other patience and strength ‘to carry on until the end of the nightmare’. Sometimes, more humorous replies would appear, one of such is: ‘2020 the movie, directed by Quentin Tarantino, written by Stephen King, original soundtrack by Yoko Ono.’ All these posts show that the highly probable occurrence of pandemics caught people in 2020 globally unprepared and extremely vulnerable. And that surely is not so much a problem of the calendar year, but rather a problem related to the incompleteness of human perception.

While explaining the third fact, about the global reaction to the pandemics, I have to note that an entirely new genre of lamentation and self-pity was invented in 2020, especially in highly developed and industrialized societies, and that is the Covid-19 lament, of course. Suddenly, people in Western societies felt stripped of their rights and freedoms. They felt isolated, dehumanized, and their work and communication depersonalized. Every description of their existential situation was abundant with words starting with ‘de’. Global destinies derailed. And what happened indeed was that these people were asked to stay at home and avoid social contact so that the Covid-19 virus could be put under control and eventually destroyed. But the fact that Westerners now had to live in isolation for some time suddenly overshadowed, for example, millions of starving children in Yemen. Overnight, drinking coffee with a friend become more meaningful than the fact that there are still hundreds of thousands of refugees on the EU borders freezing in muddy tent camps. This global sentiment was mirrored in social media as well. Memes appeared on Facebook such as: ‘I wish that in 2021 your home, your workplace, and your bar are in three different places.’ Other more ‘spiritualized’ posts appeared, such as: ‘If 2020 taught me anything, then it is the importance of humanity sticking together.’ I cannot help asking myself ‘Then why did 1998 not teach people that illegal invasions of independent countries led to death and destruction, and very little freedom and democracy?’ Or, more importantly, ‘Do human beings really need a pandemic to conclude that they have to stick together?’ All this shows a very ugly aspect of the developed societies: Their members display double standards and two-faced, pathetic emotional ego trips when pushed out of their comfort zones. By posting memes trashing or ‘deeply analyzing’ 2020, they simply restore their self-importance, their comfort, and their feeling of supremacy. And indeed, true are the final verses of T. S. Elliot’s The Hollow Men: ‘This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.’ We heard a lot of whimpering at the end of 2020, and I suppose the end of our civilization will look equally superficial and detached from reality.

The fourth fact, the capacity for denial, is somehow related to the third one. I will open with one hypothetical or, if you will, poetic question: How can a few months of Covid-19 related quarantine and twelve (to be expected sixteen) months of the Covid-19 situation ever compare to life in the Gaza Strip since 1949? And now in Gaza they have the same degree of isolation, the threat of war, and Covid-19. How can the quarantined world compare to the decades-old situation of (self) isolated Amazon tribes, which are being destroyed, slaughtered, and deported while their forests are being simultaneously cut down and put on the international neo-liberal market? How does the fact that we are not able to drink coffee in our favourite café bars compare to nearly a decade of slaughters in Syria and Yemen? It is important to note that those conflicts were largely fuelled by outside forces – the so called ‘free world’, under the banners of pseudo-democracy, and, their confronting counterparts, the outspoken villains, all of them actually proud of their historical function. It is also interesting to note that the moral, ethical and aesthetic differences between the two opposing outside forces are no greater than the difference between the negative and positive ends of a triple A battery. Were they not entertained enough in Afghanistan, a traditional and once proud society first raped and betrayed by the UK, then irreversibly radicalized by the Soviet excursion and with covert American ‘support’, and then openly massacred by the US? Has Afghanistan not lived in fear and stress for more than a hundred years now? They are talking about, for example, the long-term consequences of the Covid-19 virus on our nervous system. Do we really have any use for gray matter at all if we, as a species, are not able to conclude that the children born terribly deformed today in Vietnam due to the American’s use of Agent Orange more than 45 years ago display more tragic long term consequences in comparison with any aspect of Covid-19 disease? And what about the millions of workers, very often children and minors, quarantined for decades in gloomy industrial (often underground) facilities all around the world, not just Asia, who are paid peanuts in order to produce our precious plastic gadgets? What about the millions of people (self) isolated because of their cast, physical appearance, sexual orientation? Should we promise them a better 2021?

I am always disappointed when this 2020 whimpering finds its way even into the most unexpected of places – highly established cultural circles and institutions. One such example is a text displayed on the building of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) which reads: ‘Please believe these days will pass’, and that instantly went viral. I admit that my reading of this message probably is a bit too narrow. Still, it is my deep belief that such an institution, with such social impact, could have used its influence much more effectively by displaying a radically different message. The message could be, I suppose, the following: ‘Human beings, if you want the bad days to finish, please, stop destroying the planet you live on’. Maybe this is not emotionally and socially engaged enough for the wide masses. But what an opportunity – missed.

The second principal objection to the massive demonization of the year 2020 on the internet and in the media is the immoral transfer of responsibility. If you look closely at the history of human kind, you will see that two feelings existing between humans seem to be essential and constant: fear and guilt. Guilt, of course, being fear’s extremely creative child. Numerous analyses were written about this aspect of the human psyche, and from the point of view of many branches of science. What I am interested in examining in this short overview is the complex system of mechanisms that enable humans to avoid guilt and transfer their objective responsibility onto others, onto deities, natural and supernatural phenomena, and even onto inanimate objects. This complex system of mechanisms (in an extremely and dangerously simplified explanation here but let us take a swing at it anyway) gave birth (just to note the two most prominent examples) to religious beliefs, which outsourced ‘the unbearable human ideal’ to supernatural and nonhuman or semi-human deities, and also to the idea of human societies being organized into units called ‘nation states’, which outsourced the objective responsibility of individuals onto various types of rulers, state institutions and institutionalized pressure groups. This is the reason why even today, in the twenty-first century, we have groups of serious humans with serious university diplomas, followed by serious media, having serious debates on themes such as: ‘Should we allow vaccines produced from aborted embryos?’ and ‘should we have social or authoritarian states?’. These questions in themselves are utterly erroneous. Firstly, the sacred texts of most religions, especially monotheistic ones, claim that land was given to humans to own it, exploit it, and inherit it. Using the Matrix matrix, I will ask you: ‘What if I told you that this is wrong and the source of most of the evils that befall the human species?’ Land is not here for us, we are here for the land (and certainly not as Kennedy intended in his famous speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, which only confirms the second type of transfer of responsibility exemplified above). Land, that is, nature, is the only true deity. And we are a part of it. In such a society, which would live in a sort of Ubuntu with nature and other creatures, would we have aborted babies at all?  My guess is that we surely would not have L’Oreal and Vichy night-care beauty creams. On the other hand, we would have developed science, there is no proof that science and ethical progress stand in confrontation with the philosophy of Ubuntu, au contraire, what I am writing about here is a self-sustainable society, and not a neo-primitive one. If we asked the right questions, our vaccines would be different, their production, development financing and distribution would be radically different, and, finally our diseases would be different and appearing in different historical periods as compared to the ones that we have now.

Secondly, the question of what kind of state we should live in is in itself useless unless another question is thoroughly answered first: Why do we need national/political states at all? In my deep belief, the essential message of every state to its subjects is the following: ‘People, you are incapable of organizing your lives without the monitoring of a higher authority. Hence, you have to give us, the state and its representatives, the power to entirely organize your lives. However, the organization is costly, and you are obliged to finance the state on your own.’ Is this the ultimate ideal for humans? What about societies organized in cooperative interest groups divided by natural phenomena, such as mountain ranges, large rivers, seas, etc. (rather than by ‘national/linguistic/religious borders’), groups distributed in a way that makes their existence on a certain plot of land sustainable over time, and, finally, groups that are at any given moment able to help other groups that might be encountering existential problems?

Pure utopia, most scientists and layman would say. On the other hand, they are offering you either free market economies and abusive societies which will go on exploiting the planet until they irreversibly destroy the last square meter of it, or societies that are a bit ‘less free’ but equally aggressive to the nature. Instead of a ‘naïve utopia’ they offer you destruction, lies, arrogance and, consequently, extinction.

My firm opinion is that humans will never realize that a radically different type of society is not at all a utopia (or does the fact that such societies are currently beyond human shared consciousness actually confirm them as utopias?). They will never start asking the right structural questions. Even those for whom my words make sense, and they are numerous (after all, what I am writing here is no novelty – philosophers have considered the reality of the so-called intuitive societies ever since ancient times) will ignore their own knowledge because of greed and short term personal gain. My prediction for civilization, which the reader might perceive as overly religious (or Biblical, at least), is that it will be abruptly recycled, almost surely in a year starting with number 2 (to remain loyal to a Baba Vanga style binary logic-based prediction).

Instead of respect, love and care for nature, humans will press on with their transfer of responsibility. Covid-19 spread, especially in industrialized areas – blame it on 2020. Half of humanity in quarantine – blame it on 2020. 1,835,000 deaths – blame it on 2020. Ice melting – blame it on 2020. Melted ice temporarily cooling the oceans – blame it on 2020. Ocean levels rising – blame it on 2020. Oceans and continents heating exponentially after most of the ice has been lost – blame it on 2020. A global climate change – blame it on 2020. Activated tectonic plates – blame it on 2020. Destroyed and disappearing biospheres – blame it on 2020. The rise of viruses – blame it on 2020. The consequent collapse of economies – blame it on 2020.

We, humans, had nothing to do with it. We were merely victims of a very, very evil calendar year. I will not continue with my subsequent thoughts because I am now unable to sustain seriousness and be polite (on that note, apologies for the Baba Vanga remark).

Everything I wrote so far is to prove that human beings, as a species that builds its perception of morality on a set of lies and half-truths, have entirely lost their compass in 2020, and began to behave like insulted children. By posting vindictive content about a calendar year, humans have disclosed a very alarming and sad truth about their intrinsic nature, a deep immorality and an utter lack of objective thinking. Humans globally have fashioned an effigy out of a calendar year, a doll they are about to burn at the main venue of their vanity fair, hence releasing an unknown amount of dangerous polluting gases into the atmosphere. And then we will go en masse to see our psychotherapists. I simply must say this: God, what a repulsive species!

What still shocks me is the incredible fact that even people who are aware of the ecological problems humans have created still decided to take it out on 2020 and join the viral public lynch. I really hope they felt better after doing that, and that their lives and the prospects of survival look much better now in the first week of 2021. Finally, I can only agree with one of the more pathetic viral memes stating that ‘in 2020 we at least have not met Godzilla.’ Indeed, I do not think that anyone spotted Godzilla.


 In Conclusion: Have a Great 2021!

Do not worry. Let us continue with deceiving ourselves. New year – new start – new me!  The year 2021 will be the year of revelation and salvation. The time when we will triumphantly look back on the evil 2020 with scorn and disgust. The year when we will still post online memes and jokes insulting 2020, only this time – we will be in control again.

On the other hand, if this approach does not work out, humans, we will be in a great trouble. Just remember another viral meme, the one showing three tsunami waves, the smallest one being Covid-19, the larger one being the collapse of the global economy, and absolutely the largest one being climate change. To put it simply, humans will probably die out soon, or at least most of us. But even in the worst scenario, maybe everything is not lost. Recently I read an article about scientists on three continents agreeing that some primates have entered an early stone age of their own. This news was also published on BBC Earth in 2015 (just a note – how evil was 2015?), claiming that some chimpanzees and other primate species had indeed entered a stone age, and that there was evidence of 4,300 year-old stone tools used by chimpanzees. My suggestion is that humans start preparing an exhaustive library (printed on durable paper or, perhaps stone or golden plates) about their own civilization, and in a code that chimpanzees will be able to understand after a long period of time (perhaps a cast of chimpanzee nobility should be raised now, to be trained in the language used for instruction on human civilization). That way, chimpanzees will see where humans erred, and what went wrong. That should empower them to avoid committing the same mistakes. The first sentence in that exhaustive library should be: ‘Respect every stone!’ The second sentence should be: ‘2020 was a very evil year!’ Maybe chimpanzees will be more successful bearers of the human existential burden. Or maybe they will totally misinterpret our messages and go extinct.

I just wish that we could understand the year 2020 as our strict teacher, rather than our enemy.

Franziska Ehnert, Climate Policy in Denmark, Germany, Estonia and Poland, Ideas, Discourses and Institutions (Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2019)

The book of Franziska Ehnert, entitled Climate Policy in Denmark, Germany, Estonia and Poland, Ideas, Discourses and Institutions approaches climate change in terms of interaction of institutional, policy and discourse aspects that form the path from reality to political priority, policy and solution. This topic is part of current political debates that began in the 1980s, despite climate scepticism or climate change denial, and despite the resistance to the transformation of lifestyles and infrastructures. Environmental movements succeeded in bringing science and policy together, to sustain a climate change critique of the status quo and to promote ecologist alternative values and solutions via environmental policy.

Climate policy analyses are paramount to assess the manner in which the “ministerial administrations” implement or change a policy to answer environmental issues, redefine problems and maintain the adequacy and efficiency of climate change policy.

Considering that previous studies have shown the tension between the expert public officials and the politicians, the research conducted by Franziska Ehnert argues that “policy change will be better understood by studying the actors formulating these policies, namely ministerial administrations. It captures, not merely party politics and interest group politics, but the departmental politics of policy change. The book therefore focuses on the coordinative discourses within governmental institutions (…) among the actors participating in the construction of a policy, which stand in contrast to the communicative discourses through which politicians communicate and justify their policies vis-à-vis the public”. (p. 5)

Thus, the investigation follows the factors and aspects involved in the continuation or change of a policy; how is policy shaped, how coordinative discourses, policy frames, institutional contexts and particular identities relate and evolve; and how can one assess the reframing of values, the redefinition of interests or the reinterpretation of the guiding ideas.

Methodologically the study combines ontological, epistemological and methodological characteristics of the positivist and interpretative research paradigms in a comparative research with qualitative and quantitative dimensions based on the singularities and not on the similarities of the cases. Literature reviews, document analyses and expert interviews are also combined. Moreover, state and non-state actors are taken into consideration via expert interviews. Interpretation plays an important role as well following the data-generation stage: meaning-focused methods are used to analyse empirical data (p. 15). The investigation has as its own particularity the fact that the researchers acknowledge the characteristics of the cases only in the process of data generation, which increases objectivity. The countries compared are similar enough as regards institutional democracy, rule of law and market economy, and, as EU members, they share similar political commitments to EU climate and energy policy. Having under investigation older and younger democracies, varied indicators such as historical backgrounds, territory, economic, political, military and financial power or population size, differences in policy styles and discourses are to be expected.

The analytic framework introduced in the second chapter investigates the causes and means for the continuation of policies, provided that ideas and narratives shape and do not merely reflect the field of action. Political power has an important dimension in the power of ideas. The agents have an activity expressing the “following of the rules” and the “reproduction of the institution”, but also one that indicates the meta-level of discourse, for they think about and outside their institutions too. In terms of “ideal types”, the entrepreneurial-style bureaucrats are more likely to perform as “policy brokers”, while servant-style bureaucrats are more likely to “refrain from mediation and brokerage” and be, more likely, policy followers. (pp. 21-31)

In contrast, the following chapters approach the empirical data and associated analyses and interpretations concerning the making of climate policy in two Western European countries (Denmark and Germany) and in two Central Eastern European countries (Estonia and Poland). The researcher finds that Denmark is performing an important role in climate policy (“a small, green state”) due to a consensus-seeking policy style, a coordination apparatus among cabinet committees, and extensive specialization of the ministerial administration on climate policy. (p. 36)

These aspects, next to the policy ideals, objectives and instruments that are investigated, indicate a multitude of actors sustaining and opposing climate policy, but at the same time a resulting strong societal support for climate policy arising from this polyphonic conversation. However, Denmark is not and does not aim to be a “green Leviathan”, but a green democracy and market economy, with a policy orientation towards consensus, openness and inclusiveness. (p. 61)

The coordinative and consensus-seeking discourses are the most important in this respect. In the case of Germany, the size of the country induces different consequences to the similar reality of the multitude of actors involved in the climate policy “conversation”. Political acceptance might be the result of the “early participation of stakeholders in policy deliberation” in improving policy implementation. In this respect, even if lobbying may be seen as a risk factor, it could be also a democratic-openness enhancement factor. (p. 94) The main climate policy discourse in Germany has become that of increased “participation and transparency in policy deliberation processes”, calling more attention to institutional policy aiming at a more consensus-seeking attitude.

The “small state” discourse is central to Estonian identity, influencing both politics and policies. The EU was the agenda setter in Estonian climate policy and in Estonian energy efficiency policy. Fighting the communist heritage of authoritarian rule, a paradoxical weakness of the culture of coordination, the institutional fragmentation, the limited resources, the poor interministerial  consultations, the weak citizen participation and the low professionalization of the environmental NGOs, the situation was improved slightly by the planning for the European Structural Funds (2014-2020), by the design and continuation of the National Development Plan of the Energy Sector until 2030, and by the academic expertise, making the discourse of the technocrats and departmental politics officials prevalent, to the detriment of other actors. (pp. 120-123)

Central to Polish identity is the idea of catching up with Western development and requirements. On the one hand, the “relationships between state and society were fluid and fragmented” and, on the other, we have the communist heritage of authoritarian rule “undermining parliamentary independence” and weakening the institutionalized character of the “informal practices of interministerial and public consultations” (p. 151) Environmental NGOs are professionalized in Poland, but they remain marginalized. Their discourse attempted to sustain a core idea of ecological modernization, which has gained more adepts with the support of the Ministry of Economy, academic experts and environmental NGOs (keeping the white certificate system in the EEA).

The volume advances a very interesting methodology approaching the climate policies in the EU and it emphasizes an important and original evolving perspective in assessing climate policy. Both environment issues and political “landscapes” are changing, inducing more debate over competing ideas and ideals, values, facts and interests. As a consequence, discursiveness becomes more important in the lives of the institutions, states and societies. At the same time, interpretive analysis emphasizes potential improvement on scientific arguments and agendas as a result of the improvement of the deliberation processes on climate change.

Hans Chr. Garmann Johnsen, Stina Torjesen & Richard Ennals (eds.), Higher Education in a Sustainable Society. A Case for Mutual Competence Building (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015)

What is a sustainable society, and how can higher education help us to develop toward it? This is the question guiding the authors in this book the underlying aim of which is to explore the concept of sustainability as a much wider concept than usually referred to in terms of environamental threats. The focus is on various disciplines in higher education, and more precisely on studies pursued within the University of Agder in Norway. The approach of the book reaches though far beyond the Norwegian context and makes it relevant to every higher education institution.

The book is divided into six parts. Part I has three chapters on sustainability in “Humanistic and Cultural Perspectives”; Part II has two chapters on “Sustainability in Life Science”; Part III contains three chapters on “Sustainability in Technology and Planning Studies”; Part IV includes three chapters on “Sustainability and the Teaching of Management and Business Development”; Part V discusses in three chapters on “The Sustainable University”; and Part VI concludes with one chapter on “The Challenge of Mutual Competence Building”. I will not go into each chapter, rather I try to summarise here my learnings from the book and identify its relevance to the readers.

The content – the disciplines – is clearly not what one would relate at first instance to sustainability but Chapter 1, which is written by the editors, is very helpful to understand how the authors and the editors approach the theme of the book. This chapter provoked my interest for the whole book (and especially for my field, educational studies and teacher education) and for those who are new to this topic this chapter is vital and should not be skipped. In this chapter, the editors make it clear that they do not see sustainability as a fixed position or a well-defined concept, but rather as a framework for discussion and an opportunity to rethink our ideas about the role of universities, our disciplines and the world we live in.

A common discussion in all chapters is the issue of responsibility across disciplines, both towards particular professions but also to the wider society. In Part II, in a discussion on nursing, it is pointed out, for example, that the International Code of Ethics for Nurses states: “The nurse also shares responsibility to sustain and protect the natural environment from depletion, pollution, degradation and destruction” (p.69, cited from the International Council of Nurses). Sustainability according to environmental issues is thus seen to be an important part of the nursing profession. Should it be similar in other professions? In this chapter, it is also discussed how sustainability is a matter regarding enough or a shortage of health care workers in each country or area and the same discussion is on teacher education in Part I. Here the focus is related to sustainability and globalization and is a highly relevant discussion in rural and remote areas. In the chapter 6, on “Sustainable Diets”, the reader is confronted with the hard fact that our diets are no longer sustainable. Everything about our diets seems to have gone out of control: the usage of fossil energy for the production, of energy to produce artificial fertilisers, the transport of food, not to mention the pollution of soil, air and water. The chapter also draws our attention not only to the healthiness of our food, that has so far been the emphasis in the official guidelines to people, but also how sustainable our food is, e.g. in terms of location, transport and food categories. New generations are forced to find solutions to this problem caused be earlier generations. To me, this is one of the main contributions of this book. Universities, with their broad and diverse fields of knowledge and societal impacts, are in an ideal position to lead necessary action and changes in the world as regards moving toward a more sustainable world. It can be hard for some disciplines and professions to involve sustainability into their activity and professional cultures, if it has not been there before. This could be the case for technology and engineering, as discussed in Part III (chapter 7). The authors point out that this should not be the case, as technology and society are fundamentally interdependent and the planet really needs a change. Instead of focusing on one right answer as is normally the case in engineering, students should be taught how to be active and reflective in their learning, and learn to include several perspectives in their search for answers. This could mean that one right answer is perhaps and very likely not the point.  Actually, this is more than less the conclusion in most of the chapters, i.e. that students need to be introduced and challenged to finding a good balance between different theoretical concepts, and knowledge about how to apply them in practice (chapter 8).

I do not have actual negative comments on this book, perhaps because I found it very intriguing in many ways, both as an academic and personally. The only thing that I would like to mention is that it would have been useful to have a short summary at the end of each Part, similar to the prologue before each Part. I liked nonetheless the final section in chapter 9 (9.4.2, “The Educational Role of the University for Sustainable Planning”). There are some chapters that include too much literature on background information, which is of course important to relate the discipline to the core issue of sustainability, but they could easily have been shortened without undermining the content. If people do not want to read the whole book, but only look at certain disciplines, it is useful to read chapter 16.1.1 in any case. Entitled “Short Review of the Book”, each Part is summarised therein. Also, I would recommend to read chapter 16.3, “What is Mutual Competence Building?”. In that chapter, the editors draw together the recurring themes across the five Parts.

The prerequisite for a society to become sustainable depends on our attitudes toward the changes that need to become real and the willingness to react to a challenging situation. Here, Universities and other educational institutions have a role in educating critical individuals that can lead and influence future citizens, their actions and work. This book is a useful tool for all disciplines, academic departments and Universities to take action and communicate with individuals and the society on how to build our mutual future in a sustainable way. I encourage my workplace – the University of Akureyri – to do so.

Erik Westholm, Karin Beland Lindahl & Florian Kraxner (eds.), The Future Use of Nordic Forests, A global perspective (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015)

Nordic forests play a key role in the establishment of the Nordic welfare states. They also play a key role in a global perspective when looking at factors such as energy, climate, land use, ecosystem services and other subsistence uses. In this book the aim is to address how global changes are likely to affect the conditions for future Nordic forest use.

Continue reading Erik Westholm, Karin Beland Lindahl & Florian Kraxner (eds.), The Future Use of Nordic Forests, A global perspective (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015)

Taming the Climate Emergency: Geoengineering and Ethics


Perceptions of the climate and its changes are polarized: the clear majority is worried about global warming, the boisterous minority considers cooling as a more likely scenario (Poortinga, Spence, Whitmarsh, Capstick and Pidgeon, 2011). Common to both factions is the worry about the dynamic nature of the Earth’s atmosphere which has resulted in different geological periods in the course of the planet’s history. This assumption motivates us to develop capabilities to take the edge off the scary future. When dangerous things are about to happen with regard to climatic conditions, we become alerted and feel like we are entering a state of emergency.

This article elaborates the idea of dangerous climate change and its policy implications for the ethics of solar radiation management (SRM). Dangerous climate change, or – as we will call it – a “climate emergency” refers to such sweeping changes in the cyclical occurrence of weather events that severely impact and deteriorate our living conditions and those of many other species. A climate emergency can be also regarded as a “radical emergency,” a phrase that designates the extremely complex perilous situation the humanity faces. Because of the characteristics of the situation, the responses to it have to be large-scale and trustworthy despite the fact that they cannot be properly tested before the implementation.

Besides global warming other instances of a radical emergency include quickly spreading and highly lethal infectious diseases, a meteor clashing the Earth or a massive volcanic explosion (a supervolcano). Climate emergency denotes a specific state of affairs on the planet Earth that contains at least the two following features: First, the climate change is an immediate or impending threat to life and health of humans and many other life forms. Second, there is a high probability of escalation of the social disorder, for example economic turmoil and mass migration of climate refugees, if no immediate action is taken. Abrupt changes in climatic and weather conditions can appear suddenly and the scale of the effects is unpredictable. There are several alternative scenarios for the ensuing events once certain thresholds are crossed. The acknowledgment of human-induced global warming can also awake a sense of existential angst upon informed and a sense of guilty majority for causing anthropogenic climate change both of which may erode the quality of life (cf. Thompson, 2009, p.80, 96-97).

Presuming that the negative effects of climate change do not occur gradually1, we want to investigate, in particular, whether there is any kind of rational basis to the conclusion that a state of climate emergency would require geoengineering implementations such as SRM. Related to this, we will pose the question whether there can be exemptions from conventional morality justified by climate emergency for instance to use such largely untested geoengineering methods like SRM. We will take a look at SRM from an ethical point of view and analyze the concept of climate emergency and its policy relevance in order to assess the moral justification for the implementation of SRM.

Geoengineering as a response to a climate emergency

By definition, an emergency not only allows exceptional action but calls for it. Can emergency be responded in a collective way through which humans jointly aim to protect themselves or does emergency result in disarray and turmoil that compels humans individually to seek for saving themselves and perhaps their nearest? If the latter scenario actualizes, there is not much room for ethical reflection and precautionary measures are ineffectual to a great extent. The former scenario opens up two basic alternatives, legal and technological, that can often be used simultaneously. Most nation-states have emergency laws, the purpose of which is to maintain capacities to response to crises in an organized manner. When a state of emergency is present, a legal authority can be granted emergency powers so as to steer the nation out of the predicament even at the cost of normally protected rights. As the Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero put it, “Salus populi suprema est lex” (“The safety of the people is the highest law”) (quoted in Walker 2008, p.370). As far as we know, no one has thus far suggested that a state of emergency should be “declared” because of global warming ( see Gardiner 2011a, p.20). However, in the context of related debate undemocratic opinions have been expressed (e.g. Shearman & Smith 2007). The talk of an emergency has rather been metaphorical and alarmist, not judicial. The emergency powers may entitle its holder to accept the use of technological solution. The belief in technological solutions is widespread and is also applied to the context of global warming.

The scary possibilities have led to the emergence of the idea of “fixing the climate” in the form of intentional climate modification, i.e. geoengineering. It refers to human attempts to control climate so as to stabilize the physical conditions on this planet. As the proponents see it, geoengineering – especially SRM – is the best available solution to lessen the drastic consequences that climate change is expected to bring about (see Keith, Parson, & Morgan 2010, p.426; Victor, Morgan, Steinburner, & Ricke 2009).2 According to a very broad definition, geoengineering is “the intentional large-scale manipulation of the environment” (Keith, 2000, p.247). The environment here denotes both the climate system and the biosphere as a component of the climate system.3

Proposals for geoengineering are numerous and they do not conveniently fall into one homogenous category (see Keith, 2000; Lenton & Vaughan, 2009). Because the prevailing concern is the warming of the climate, the proposed technological means aim to tackle the increasing temperatures. There are two basic ways to seek it: the reduction of the absorption of incoming radiation from the sun (SRM) and the removal of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (carbon dioxide removal, CDR) (Lenton & Vaughan, 2009, p.2562; Shepherd et al., 2009). In this paper, the focus is on the ethical analysis of solar radiation management. Perhaps the most discussed SRM method is stratospheric sulfur injection (Crutzen, 2006). However, other techniques have also been suggested, such as using micro bubbles in water in order to increase water surface reflectivity (Seitz, 2011).

The views on the necessity and acceptability of geoengineering are grossly dividing (see Ikle & Wood 2008; Robock 2008). In this respect, the geoengineering debate indirectly echoes the debate on policy responses to global warming. Those who deny human-induced climate change can handily take a conservative stance to geoengineering. Nevertheless, it is possible to have other reasons for controlling and manipulating the climate, such as to promote “natural” climate change, to put off the future ice-age, or to increase productivity.4 The current debate on geoengineering takes for granted anthropogenic global warming. This is indicated in the influential report by The Royal Society Geoengineering the Climate where geoengineering is defined as the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change” (Shepherd et al., 2009, p.1).

Hardly anyone denies the risks involved in human meddling with the Earth’s climatic system, but it appears that some geoengineering methods are safer than the others. As an example of a less ecologically detrimental method, the Royal Society report mentions CDR (see Shepherd et al. 2009, p.xi). However, the safer methods, e.g. large scale afforestation, might not be quick enough to respond to the situation. When we think of our present situation as exceptional and realize that our well-being or, at worst, our very existence is in danger, many of us might be ready to give green light to more exceptional measures, such as SRM. The Royal Society report (Shepherd et al. 2009, p.45) refers to it as a survivalist measure in the state of a climatic predicament. SRM could be combined together with mitigation policies and would require possibility to discontinue SRM implementation if necessary.

Climate and other natural scientists more generally have paid a great deal of attention to identify events and long-term trends that indicate tipping points or thresholds for major and sudden alterations in climatic conditions (for instance Alley et al. 2003, p.2008-2009). By interpreting scenarios, models and theories people are able to make informed judgments concerning the state that they are in. Still, it is not our task to analyze the validity of these judgments; this paper is not a critical review of the state of the art in climate science.

In this section, we have focused on introducing how most societies have socially, legally and technically prepared for the appearance of ominous situation. Global warming is, however, a new kind of emergency that may require new kind of technology to alleviate and control the situation. The next section focuses on the ethics of emergency more generally and considers how moral problems arising from these situations should be treated.

On the ethics of emergency

There are various kinds of emergencies in different situations of life. Wars, natural disasters, infectious diseases and such accidents as fires and car crashes are examples of emergencies and some of them have been targets of philosophical scrutiny in one way or another (e.g., Walzer 2004; Sandin 2009). All of them are apparent cases, but they seem to have a different concept of emergency when it comes to the severity, scale, endurance and intensity of the situation and the realization of value(s) threatened. The last-mentioned refers to possible loss caused to objects of value, that is, to concrete entities such as human individuals as well as to abstract objects, for example biodiversity and national sovereignty. Wars are cases of “supreme emergency”, as Michael Walzer (2004, p.33) claims, when “our deepest values and our collective survival are in imminent danger” due to an attack. Such an emergency can be instantly recognizable, although there can continuous debates about the justifiability of the use of armed forces. Natural disasters and human accidents are less political but not wholly apolitical because the foreseeable damages can be mitigated through, for example, civic education, zoning ordinance, building standards and other safety measures. Global warming is a specific kind of emergency because it is an abstract idea and a highly scientific affair; its symptoms, or its consequences such as wars, forest fires and flood disasters, are more visible.

It is typical for a state of emergency that it gives rise to moral problems. Concerning moral thinking more generally, a moral dilemma is a moral emergency if something should be done instantly, but people hesitate over the right course of action, including the possibility of omission. However, omission either might not be an option or could result in more catastrophic results than any other alternative open to us. It is not, of course, that all moral dilemmas are cases of moral emergency: some of the dilemmas are conflicts of principles that simply exist in theory. Let us take a brief look at the topic of emergency in the field of applied ethics.

To illustrate the serious of climate emergency, both health analogies to the state of climate and warfare analogies to global warming have been made. Most famously, the British “geophysiologist” James Lovelock speaks about “planetary medicine” (Lovelock 2000) and compares present situation with the situation before the World War Two (see Lovelock, 2008, p.3888). Back then there were only a few medicines that were known to be effective on diseases despite the well-founded science of physiology. Lovelock compares the situation with present climate science and geoengineering plans and raises the question of sufficient expertise in balancing the effects of anthropogenic global warming.

Especially, the debate about the methods of bioethics seems relevant to our discussion. Bioethicists have analyzed the role of principles in decision-making and guiding action. Beauchamp and Childress’s Principles of Biomedical Ethics (1977) has become the paradigm example of the so-called principlist approach. According to it, there is a set of prima facie principles: autonomy (respect person’s own will); beneficence (do good to people); nonmaleficence (avoid harming people); and justice (benefits and burdens must be distributed fairly). These principles are fundamental moral intuitions that can be reflected and tested in moral analysis of actual cases. In addition to principles, ethical decision-making consists in confirmed facts and widely accepted background theories. Together these principles, facts and theories constitute an ethical decision-making method known as wide reflective equilibrium (see Daniels 1979). The real-life decisions are reached by taking principles into account in the way that decision-makers should pursue the coherence of principles, perceptible facts and background theories when deciding about policies. An impending climate emergency provides a challenge for decision-makers who could benefit from the interconnection of relevant prima facie principles, background theories and up-to-date climate science in making appropriate decisions. Considering the SRM, the decision-makers should not only know about the facts, contesting scenarios and available alternative technologies, but also about relevant moral principles that constrain decision making. Because the decision is collective, autonomy here should be understood in a less rigid way as a majority decision in a national parliament. Beneficence requires that the implementation really does good for the people, and in this case it is so that SRM implementation is better for them than the other alternatives, including doing nothing. Nonmaleficence requires that people should not be harmed but because the SRM requires that mirrors must be transported to space there are risks, such as the explosion of the carriers. Finally, the principle of justice requires that the implementation of SRM must not benefit one group of people at the expense of others. All in all, the components of decision-making are many and they are often contested making the attainment of the optimal decision infeasible.

The time available for decision-making in an emergency situation can be severely limited and our understanding of the essential features of the situation are not optimal because of knowledge gaps and perhaps the distortion of information. This is a serious problem for principlism in some cases of emergency. For instance, health professionals should perform required actions routinely. There are, very roughly, two kinds of medical emergencies requiring a patient’s treatment: those in organized and well-managed situations and those in chaotic situations. Typically emergency situations in health care are rather specific and well-managed in a sense that everyone involved knows their role. This is so because the scope of emergency is limited to the troubled patients. In the chaotic cases, the health-care and other infrastructures have collapsed and confusion prevails; consider cases like massive earthquakes and flooding where thousands of injured people simultaneously require treatment which no one can provide for them. The consequences of global warming could be interpreted in this way. We suggest a new attribute to describe this kind of a situation: radical emergency.

Radical emergency is comparable to the concept of complex emergency, sometimes used in military medical sciences to single out situations

“in which mortality among the civilian population substantially increases above the population baseline, either as a result of the direct effects of war or indirectly through increased prevalence of malnutrition and/or transmission of communicable diseases, particularly if the latter result from deliberate political and military policies and strategies” (Salama, Spiegel, Talley, & Waldman 2004, p.1801).

This definition of a complex emergency does not include natural disasters because they are thought of as having more short-term effects. In contrast, climate change can have a long-term (that is, thousands of years) adverse effect on the biosphere. Therefore it is best use a new concept to designate a new situation that is both complex and long-term and new to the humanity.

On the basis of this excursion to ideas of emergency a question arises naturally: are we in regard to climate change getting closer to an emergency setting that is similar to the ones constantly encountered in medical practices or at war? A radical emergency designates a situation where conventional risk management falls apart. This might be also possible in the case of a radical emergency and runaway climate change.

Proponents of geoengineering bring the emergency arguments and potential emergency measures into the climate debate in two intertwining ways. Geoengineering can be argued for as a precautionary measure or as an emergency measure. In the former argument, geoengineering is viewed as human potential to react to dangerous climate change and therefore geoengineering capabilities should be created, even though not necessarily used. For example, Victor et al. (2009, p.66) have pleaded that “The time has come to take it [geoengineering] seriously. Geoengineering could provide a useful defense for the planet – an emergency shield that could be deployed if surprisingly nasty climatic shifts put vital ecosystems and billions of people at risk.”5 In the latter argument, geoengineering capabilities should not only be created but also used as quickly as possible because we are in the state of emergency.

Is the precautionary argument distinguishable from the emergency argument in practice? As we see it, the arguments are intertwined. First of all, technological determinists claim that if a technology has been developed, it will be used at some point of time. This is not a very plausible argument against the research and development of geoengineering, since we are unable to say for sure that it is happening. A stronger argument is that it is the decision about the use of geoengineering technology depends on our perception and we may start using it as a precautionary measure in the early stage of global warming. There is even a further incentive to use the technology inappropriately: the research and development requires experiments and the best experiments are conducted in the natural laboratory. Therefore, the step from research and development to the actual use of technology is very low.

To summarize, cases of emergency and their management are numerous. Therefore the vocabulary of emergency is rather heterogeneous, reflecting the fact that car accidents should be reacted differently than wars and infectious diseases. Global warming is an emergency that has multiple layers, since it may be the ultimate cause of more proximate problems, such as the spread of new diseases, flooding and droughts. We have characterized the possible bleak scenario that the global warming might cause as radical emergency. Next we will argue that there are better ways to react to this problem than geoengineering.

A survival kit without geoengineering

Because the purpose of this article is not to determine whether or not we are in the state of climate emergency, we will simply assume that we are very close to such a situation and base this assumption the latest state of art in the study of climate change. We have also assumed that principlist method is the best existing method to analyze the alternative ways of action. What kind of emergency relief or a survival kit is needed to confront the possible climate emergency? The survival kit should provide for a radical emergency where the traditional infrastructures of rescue services disintegrate. It is obvious that a climate emergency is not the only potential impending crisis at the beginning of the 21st century. There is also evidence of a large-scale sustainability predicament including climate change together with issues of water and food security and peak oil. We are not to ignore the threat of nuclear winter caused by nuclear weapons either (Robock, Oman, & Stenchikov 2007).

The most prominent tool of a survival kit would be mitigation and fast decarbonization of the economy and infrastructure. Currently, the climate science is incompatible with the objective of avoiding climate emergency with existing political and economic realities regarding mitigation. In other words, as things now stand, rapid decarbonization is neither economically feasible nor politically acceptable. It is quite obvious however, that avoiding an emergency situation should be the priority in climate and any other policy. All the same, one of the problems with introducing geoengineering to the climate policy forum is the possible dependency on these schemes, for instance stratospheric sulfur injections6. The benefits and risks of SRM are assessed in a greater detail in Robock (2011) and Robock, Marquardt, Kravitz, & Stenchikov (2009).

The proposals for treating a climate emergency without SRM are based among others on the following arguments. Firstly, according to the slippery slope argument SRM will open the door to novel and detrimental implementations of climate modification technologies. Although there is no definitive proof of large-scale realizations of ecologically damaging implementations it does not make the slippery slope argument wholly ineffective. It is possible that preliminary testing of geoengineering proposals leads eventually to ecologically detrimental consequences. Secondly, the technical fix argument considers that SRM might work successfully in enhancing albedo; however, it does not fix the root of the problem itself which also has to be taken into consideration with regard to the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. Thirdly, in the unpredictability argument SRM is deemed ethically dubious in a utilitarian framework because its effects cannot be reliably predicted (see Keith 1998, p.87; 2000, p.277). Keith discusses the most common arguments against geoengineering and we consider these arguments to apply to SRM implementation proposals, too. Hence, we are in a situation where impending climate catastrophe might be at hand and one of the proposed solutions to climate emergency, SRM, faces ethical challenges that need clarification for the decision making whether to adopt SRM as a functional part of climate policy.

Besides the previous arguments against geoengineering, there are at least two more arguments that consider SRM methods in their present form ethically unacceptable. Bunzl (2008, p.18) considers the issue from social justice perspective. He brings up the possibility the SRM implementations can be planned and decided in an unfair and elitist manner and its benefits and harms can be distributed unevenly. The final argument, formulated by Robock (2008, p.17), proposes that the research and development of SRM techniques might also generate the weakening of political will to engage in mitigation and adaptation options relevant to climate policy. Moreover, the investments in research on SRM might also prohibit the emergence of novel and sustainable solutions to challenges created by climate change because the research funding pool is limited. These above-mentioned arguments pose relevant arguments against geoengineering however cannot yet solve the question whether to grant ethical acceptability to SRM or not.

Opposite to the previously mentioned arguments, we can also identify various arguments in favor of SRM. First, the cost-effectiveness of SRM proposals seems to make them tempting to accept. Victor et al. (2009, p.69) even claim that “there is general agreement that the strategies are cheap”. Second, no international administrative body will be needed; thus implementations could be executed unilaterally through corporative or state administration. This point could also be turned upside down. For instance, a rogue state might have questionable geoengineering plans without powerful international agreements or actors. Third, technological geoengineering innovations are not as troublesome as to renew the global energy regime away from fossil fuel based substances.7 However, these circumstances which seem to support the implementation of certain SRM proposals appear to be short-sighted. For example, Gardiner (2010, p.287-288) makes a point that the cost-effectiveness counts only the price of the sulfur and its potential ways to shoot it into the atmosphere, not the potentially hazardous side-effects it could have on the biosphere. On top of it, the unilateral implementation is however politically and legally complex an issue and requires an international agreement. Without a modified international agreement, geoengineering implementations could be interpreted as a violation of the Convention on the Prohibition of Military of Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, ENMOD (see Robock 2008, p.17).

The arguments in favor and against geoengineering depict the discussion around geoengineering. Contradictory viewpoints in the presence of impending climate emergency make the question concerning the morally adequate decision making process vexed. In the next chapter we will look at the argument from radical emergency and its relevance to the discussion of the ethical acceptability of SRM in a climate emergency.

An argument from radical emergency

Saving or losing the lives of millions of innocent people who are in immediate danger because of the choices of the few is also a potential situation present in a radical climate emergency. We have used the concept of radical emergency refer to the situations that are complex, new and have long-term effects and considered that global warming exemplifies it. An argument from radical emergency consists of a group of arguments which claim that in special occasions one is morally exempted from everyday norms and morality. In other words, the tragic situation allows an agent – which could also be a state or an institution – to perform actions that would normally be prohibited as too risky or considered immoral in conventional activities. Radical emergencies are often moral emergencies since there is a tragic element present: every option open to use bears moral costs, such as the violation of individual rights or threats of collective survival. If an emergency situation is a kind of a moral blind alley, one can ask how responsibility is included in the action of choosing one option over another.

If a radical climate emergency is understood as a situation where business-as-usual everyday rules and norms cease to govern, can the imminent threat provide justification to promote SRM techniques? SRM has entered the discussions on the basis that, first of all, in an emergency situation – in this case radical climate emergency – we must depart from usual everyday morality; therefore also untested and potentially detrimental implementations could and should be introduced as a survival kit despite potential adverse side effects and unknown repercussions. Briefly, an emergency morally requires taking extraordinary risks. The second reason why SRM has entered the climate change discussions in the form of argument from radical emergency is that it is the lesser evil compared with actualizing climate catastrophe. The lesser evil argument maintains that SRM schemes should be implemented regardless of the fact that it has adverse and unknown side effects or it is otherwise considered as ethically unacceptable because the imminent climate emergency on the verge of a catastrophe is far worse than intentional climate modification. Thus, the best mode of action – morally speaking – would be to engage in geoengineering the planet rather than face runaway climate change. Gardiner (2011b, p.180) makes this point in reflecting on the problem of lesser evil. However, it is essential to notice that there are more options than facing climate catastrophe or engage in SRM implementations.

The lesser evil argument implies that in an emergency one should be detached from common morality and discover emergency morality (if such a thing exists) as something different from our conventional morality. We interpret radical emergency, paraphrasing Walzer´s concept of supreme emergency,as a severe vulnerability or disintegration of collective values and survival. In that kind of climate emergency which is also a moral emergency the lesser evil argument should be carefully analyzed. That is to say, lesser evil argument maintains that we could be absolved from our responsibilities to tackle climate change with morally acceptable and environmentally sustainable means because we do not have the time or the means to do that. Perhaps the principlist approach and its earlier mentioned prima facie principles can offer guidelines for action in a radical emergency where there is limited time for negotiations of the best alternatives of action. Even though the gloomiest projections of radical climate emergency have not established yet, we still think that the current situation in the light of climate science requires assuming a climate emergency of some kind. Does this prove that in a radical climate emergency SRM goes when it comes to morality?

At worst, the emergency situations are extremely complicated situations for making morally right decisions. Of course, the acceptability of measures used also depends on theoretical commitments whether they are for instance consequentialist, non-consequentialist or based on virtue ethics or some other ethical approach. For instance, the conclusion of morally right action depends on the emphasis whether the consequences of the action or the procedure leading to action or some other factor are morally relevant. Moreover, a proposed course of action may violate the basic human rights, justice or contradict for example with the outcomes of the cost-benefit analysis. In every war and catastrophe, the otherwise absolute rules seem to become flexible and the request to accept exemptions from them pops up.

Even in an emergency, there are still options to choose from even if they are morally questionable ones. Therefore it is implausible to maintain that moral responsibilities cannot be involved in a non-antagonistic emergency such as a climate emergency that is “a moral black alley” (see Sorell 2002; Sandin & Wester 2009). To consider current SRM proposals morally justified, one should not only grant that a radical emergency is possible but also refine the ideas of sustainability and protection of the environment in order to ensure the continuance of a flourishing biosphere including humans.

Consequently, a (tragic) moral dilemma can be seen as a case where choices have to be done between two or more evils. There can be a situation where one action is the lesser evil than the other and possibly thus should be chosen. In this case, a right course of action can be found. In other words, an action is as good as it can get in that tragic situation. Nevertheless, choosing the right or lesser evil option does not exclude the fact that there is still wrongness included in that action. By definition, the best or right option is not available at all. (Raz 1988, p.359.) Walzer (2004, p.49) describes this kind of situation in these words: “This is the essential feature of emergency ethics: that we recognize at the same time the evil we oppose and the evil we do, and that we set ourselves, so far as possible, against both.” In the case of SRM, a radical climate emergency might suggest that available options including SRM involve evil in any case for several reasons8. In other words, there might not be any good choices available. However, even the alarmist conception of climate change can consider moral norms of some kind applying to radical climate emergency on the basis of prima facie principles. Those principles can be applied to all occasions regardless of the gravity of the situation. For instance, the principle of nonmaleficence implicates that in every situation one should choose the lesser evil and aim to minimize the damages whenever necessary.

Concluding remarks

In this article, we have reflected on different interpretations of lesser evil argument with regard to SRM. We do not advocate the perspective that in an emergency we exit the moral realm and enter a territory of emergency or a moral black hole where conventional morality no longer affects. Neither do we agree on that in a climate emergency we do not exit the moral realm but stretch our morality and accept the lesser evil regardless of the fact that it involves evil9. Instead, we proposed the prima facie principles to be used as guidelines in a radical climate emergency.

The interpretation of a climate emergency as a radical emergency and the adequate means to operate with regard to climate change depends at least on the following matters: the prevailing paradigm of science, the state of the art in climatology, the prevailing ethical perspective (anthropo- or biocentric, consequentalist, non-consequentalist, principlist etc.), relevant and current ethical issues and international climate policy. Our thesis in this article has been that a radical climate emergency needs a specific definition before the risky last resort measures, for instance SRM implementations, can be taken into consideration as part of a sustainable climate policy. Furthermore, we want to emphasize that there is a neither a moral black hole situation nor permissible exemptions from conventional morality on a prima facie basis. As the principlist approach suggests, norms guiding action can be flexible in a way that one of the four main principles can be predominant in comparison with the other principles; however, the principles are relevant even in the most desperate situation.

Can we accept SRM as a morally satisfactory method to tackle climate emergency? The answer depends on the situation in which the emergency is declared. Some say a climate emergency is currently at hand, others think it is decades away or just an alarmist provocation. Unlike the house on fire, the planet on fire is non-evident. However, evil is still evil whether done in an emergency or not. This means that if SRM is considered as morally evil, it is still that even in a climate emergency. Hence, we recommend creative solutions to construct future scenarios including the ethical aspects along with technical engineering. The only way to mitigate a potentially catastrophic climate emergency is to transform human practices. The history of humanity is a history of remarkable progress and creativity in many occasions and failures in others. One should be suspicious of imagining that SRM is the most impressive invention to save the biosphere from an impending climate catastrophe. The relevant climate thresholds should be carefully evaluated one by one in order to decide the relevant and sustainable climate policy and whether to add SRM or other similar proposals to the survival kit of climate emergency.


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1 Those adverse effects include for instance rising polar temperatures, diminishing and melting of icebergs, icecaps and glaciers; reduced permafrost; changes in ocean currents, wind patterns and precipitation; heat waves; droughts; loss of biodiversity and overall increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

2 They could argue for the development of this technology by claiming that the effects of climate change are human rights violations (Caney, 2009, p. 127; 2010: Hayward, 2005, p.29). Caney mentions that climate change will threaten at least three rights: the right to life, the right to health, and the right to subsistence. Although Caney and Hayward both argue that adverse effects of climate change could violate fundamental human rights, they have not proposed geoengineering schemes in order to hinder the negative effects of climate change. We simply mention the argument here as a potential argument for geoengineering. In addition to human rights view, Moellendorf (2011) analyzes different responses to dangerous climate change.

3 Geoengineering should not, however, be confused with ecological engineering, the intentional large-scale manipulation of the ecosystems although they overlap each other.

4 In the 18th century, Carl von Linné, Pehr Adrian Gadd and numerous other scholars in Sweden considered the local warming of the northern climate. For them local warming meant increasing productivity and wealth, and it was achievable by means of population growth, deforestation and draining of wetlands. (Niemelä 2008.)

5 Victor et al. (2009, p.66) suggest that emergency measures as a shield is a political choice. However, political solutions in the case of climate change are not known to be particularly swift decisions. This presents a dilemma for geoengineering and the policy making of climate change.

6 Failed or suddenly stopped geoengineering could lead to rapid warming of the climate (Matthews & Caldeira 2007, p.9949; Brovkin, Petoukhov, Claussen, Bauer, Archer, & Jaeger 2009, p.255).

7 Caldeira and Wood (2008) and Virgoe (2009) also discuss the second and third point.

8 Arguments against geoengineering usually involve references to e.g. quick and ecologically unsustainable techno-fixes and side effects, unreasonable human hubris over positive outcomes of meddling with nature, ill-tested proposals and unsolved issues of geoengineering governance and social and intergenerational justice.

9 For the sake of the argument let us assume that there are no morally excellent or good options available.