“2015 could be remembered as the watershed in the way we look at climate change, the year in which we went from denying global warming to accepting it as the new normal.” This is the opening statement of Cambiamento climatico, the most recent publication in the Piccole Introduzioni series from LUISS University Press. Authored by Marcello Di Paola, LUISS instructor and member of the Center for Ethics and Global Politics, the book analyzes the issue from different points of view, including scientific, political, legal, economic and ethical commentary.
“Climate change is a complex, multidimensional and interdisciplinary phenomenon that challenges some of the fundamental parameters of our theories and political practices, including the very foundations of our ethics system,” explains Professor Di Paola. “In the book, I tried to highlight contradictions as well as conceptual and practical hindrances that climate change generates for individuals, collectives, and institutions. The aforementioned perspectives bring light to the fact that climate change is, fundamentally, a question of values: a challenge to rethink what matters to mankind and how to reach it. There are no unequivocal answers, nor are there mere technical solutions. Behaviors on all levels must be critically re-examined and we must decide which pillars of our culture need to be rethought.”
From a scientific point of view, climate change is now undeniable. “The underlying physical-chemical principal of atmospheric warming is elementary in its foundations, it doesn’t take more than an at-home experiment to understand it. The inevitable difficulties in evaluating precise effects on complex ecological and social systems, particularly on a long-term basis, doesn’t mean that climate change doesn’t exist or that there are doubts on the enormous dangers it poses. Science must find the most efficient way to communicate the truth about our climate to a largely disinterested public. Communication has become fundamental, and not just for the climate but also for all sustainability-related topics. We cannot assume that data speaks for itself and that it is sufficient to mobilize our conscious and policies. Data often represents an implicit condemnation of the insufficient or incongruent status quo, not only on a political or economic level, but on ethical and cultural planes as well. Yet the status quo is always so attractive to everyone.”
Regarding legal aspects, one of the key points of global climate politics is the Principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities, a part of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. “The principle was an attempt to share responsibility is a legible way, follow a ‘you break it, you buy it’ philosophy based on historic responsibility, taking into consideration fairness, vulnerability and different capabilities. It is an innovative and important principle of global justice. However, the principle left room for ambiguity. For example: it only emissions produced by countries into consideration, and not emissions produced by companies, in particular multinational fossil-fuel companies. It also failed to take into consideration that countries deemed among the poorest, such as China and India, emit very little per citizen, but a considerable amount when all summed up.”
Even general reflections on ethics show that our value system have great difficulty in negotiating on climate issues. “The field of ethics debates not only governments’ and individuals’ responsibilities towards each other regarding the phenomenon, but also how to manage our relationship with the natural world and future generations. Our current ethics systems do not provide us with clear instructions on which and how many moral obligations we should have regarding nature and posterity, in particular those most distant. For the most part, it is up to our individual and collective consciences to define the value of these relationships and their meaning to our lives. Regarding these themes, disorientation on both the theoretic and practical levels is still highly problematic. After all, climate change is at least partially due to the adoption of development strategies, the construction of political consensus and conceptions of personal and social wellness based on short term thinking.”
The XXI Conference of Parties (COP21) opened the doors to concrete action to contain carbon dioxide emissions from all members states of the United Nations. “It’s certainly a good sign that the problem is being officially recognized and that there are several national proposals on emissions abatement,” comments Professor Di Paola. “Nevertheless, even if all the proposals are put into action, it is estimated that it will still not be enough to contain climate change within the limits recommended by scientists. It is thus probable that powerful forces are working to send strong messages to the markets and to stimulate new energy investment sectors to help us overcome our current dependence on fossil fuels. And if the fossil fuel industry opposes it, there are other industry that are just as powerful (if not more) - such as the insurance sector - that are pushing us towards ambitious, binding agreements. There are several possible market solutions. The problem to not mistake the speed of markets with the effects of their movements, which can be much slower. Climate change, however, is accelerating.”