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Nation's Leaders Urged to Consider Moral Perspectives of Climate Change

Climate

National Climate Ethics Campaign

A Michigan State University (MSU) professor delivered a message in Washington, D.C., Nov. 30, urging the nation’s leaders to address the moral issues surrounding climate change.

Michael Nelson, MSU associate professor of environmental ethics and philosophy, is part of the National Climate Ethics Campaign (CEC), a team of representatives from government agencies, business and environmental organizations who delivered a national climate ethics statement to President Barack Obama and Congress.

Opponents of fighting climate change claim that costs to jobs and the economy are too high while proponents argue that emission reductions will create jobs and benefit the economy. The moral perspective, however, is not being addressed at all, Nelson said.

“Missing from the international debate is the deeply disturbing moral and ethical implications of climate change,” Nelson said. “Climate change is a real, dangerous and rapidly worsening problem that cannot be driven solely by short-term economics or national self-interest.”

Nelson is the co-author of the book Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril. The collection of essays includes contributions from President Obama, former Vice President Al Gore, Iran's first female Vice President Massoumeh Ebtekar, Pope John Paul II, Dalai Lama, and writers such as Terry Tempest Williams, Wendell Berry and Daniel Quinn.

From the CEC’s statement: “Climate change-related impacts are already harming and killing people here and abroad. Unless carbon pollution is rapidly reduced, the resulting natural disasters, floods, diseases, illnesses, water and food shortages, and environmental degradation, along with associated rising violence and social breakdown, will injure or kill millions more every year.”

The CEC’s goal is to seek endorsements from politicians and to help organizations around the country tackle climate change issues from a moral perspective, Nelson added.

“We want to urge every citizen to push for policies that reduce emissions and prepare for climate change,” he said. “This has the potential to create millions of jobs in clean energy fields, support healthy families and build vibrant communities.”

The complete CEC statement follows, and can also be found by clicking here:

Statement of Our Nation’s Moral Obligation to Address Climate Change

We, the undersigned current and former elected officials and representatives from the business, labor, youth, financial, academic, mental health, physical health, conservation, racial justice, civil rights, development organizations, and faith communities of the U.S., recognize that climate change is a real, dangerous, and rapidly worsening problem with deep moral implications.

Although reducing carbon pollution will have costs, it will also produce incalculable benefits. Our response must therefore be driven not solely by near-term economic or national self-interest. We must also acknowledge and act on our long-standing moral obligation to protect current and future generations from suffering and death, to honor principles of justice and equity, and to protect the great Earth systems on which the well-being of all life, including ours, depends.

We call on every citizen to act on these moral principles without delay. Individually, and collectively as a nation, we must rapidly reduce carbon pollution by significant levels, prepare for the consequences of an already warming planet, and insist on public policies that support these goals and create a just transition to a low-carbon economy. The risks of inaction are exceedingly high. The benefits of acting on these moral principles are even greater.

The Moral Obligation to Prevent Suffering and Protect Human Life

The most fundamental of our guiding moral principles is that it is wrong to unjustifiably cause human suffering or death. Climate change-related impacts are already harming and killing people here and abroad. Unless carbon pollution is rapidly reduced, the resulting natural disasters, floods, diseases, illnesses, water and food shortages, and environmental degradation, along with associated rising violence and social breakdown, will injure or kill millions more every year.1

Climate change-induced suffering from food shortages and the dramatic spread of disease and illness will be especially significant. Millions of people worldwide will be affected.2 Suffering will also result from the job losses and disruptions to families and communities caused by the billions of dollars in direct and indirect annual costs of climate impacts, as well as from the escalating market volatility, supply chain disruptions, and other impacts businesses will experience.

Over the past century, the U.S. has been the world’s largest overall contributor to climate change, generating about 30 percent of the total energy-related CO2 emissions that are destabilizing the climate. Today, we continue to produce far more emissions on an annual basis than any other nation except China. Even if the costs are high, we must avert one of the worst violations of human rights the world has ever seen by acknowledging our contribution to the climate crisis and significantly reducing our emissions. 

The shift to a low carbon economy can create millions of good jobs that support healthy families and communities. This requires a ‘just transition’ that spreads the investments in solutions and the benefits of new approaches equitably, enables whole industries to make the changes needed, provides adequate resources for workers and communities adversely affected by the shift and ensures that all Americans have a democratic voice in their workplaces and their communities in how those decisions are made.

The Moral Responsibility to Honor Principles of Justice and Equity

Those who suffer the most from climate change are not the same people who now benefit greatly from the overuse of fossil fuels and other natural resources. As a matter of justice and equity, we have a moral obligation to reduce our carbon pollution in order to prevent suffering and death among people who have contributed little to climate change but who are, at least initially, most impacted—those living in the Arctic; people in less developed, hotter regions of the world; low-income and working-class communities; communities of color; women as well as children in the U.S.; and future generations everywhere.

In addition, even as we reduce our emissions we must do our part to ensure that vulnerable populations and nations have the financial and technological capacity to prepare for and adapt to the consequences of a warming planet and grow clean energy economies.

The Moral Obligation to Honor and Protect the Processes that Make Life Possible

Because we have a moral obligation to protect human life and prevent suffering and injustice, and because Earth’s gifts have intrinsic value, we have a responsibility to protect the ecosystems and organisms that provide the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the materials we use to sustain life and prosperity, and the natural beauty that lifts our spirits.

Whether we believe that the Earth and its great abundance is a product of natural processes or, as millions of people nationwide believe, that the Earth is the gift of the Creator, or both, our obligations are fundamentally the same—we must be good stewards of what we have inherited. Humanity is not in command of creation, but merely part of it. To disrupt the climate that is the cornerstone of all life on Earth and to squander the extraordinary abundance of life, richness, and beauty of the planet is morally wrong. 

We Have the Know-how and Tools

The people of our great nation have the spirit, knowledge, and tools required to reduce climate change. The greatest obstacle is lack of human will. History is watching us. Our legacy will be determined by what we do now and in the next few years.

We call on everyone in the U.S. to act on their moral principles now by rapidly and significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their homes, places of work and government.

We call on every citizen to actively prepare for the consequences of climate change.

Moreover, we urge every citizen to insist that their government adopt policies to foster emission reductions and prepare for climate change, and to provide sufficient resources to build the capacity of the most impacted people worldwide to do the same.

This is not just about avoiding harm. Acting on our moral principles will foster the growth of a sustainable economy that creates millions of good jobs in clean energy fields, supports healthy families, and builds vibrant communities. That, itself, makes this imperative.

The need for action is urgent, the possibilities enormous.  Please join us in heeding this call. Click here to sign on.

For more information, click here.

—————

1. The Human Impact Report: Climate Change—The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis (2009) Global Humanitarian Forum

2. Briefing of the American Public Health Association by the director of the American Public Health Association, the President of the American Medical Association, and the Deputy Director of EPA Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, February 25, 2011

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Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

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An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

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Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

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Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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