On the Ethics of Climate Engineering: An Overlooked Question?

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015: 2:45 PM
211B West Building (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
David L. Mitchell, DRI, Reno, NV

A famous quote from Albert Einstein is that “One cannot solve a problem by using the same mentality that created the problem.” Many see climate engineering as an attempt to address the problem of global warming by using the same mentality that produced this problem. But if this is true, then what is the mentality that can save us from ourselves? A related question deals with the concept of the Anthropocene; the current age where human activities are affecting the global environment. An alternative yet equivalent definition of the Anthropocene is that it is a new age where human desires are affecting the environment. The cultural wisdom of Asia and India has long ago concluded that human desire is insatiable, and this prompts the question: If the Anthropocene is an age where human desire affects nature on a global scale, then how can we save civilization by transforming outer nature (i.e. climate engineering) if we do not simultaneously transform inner nature?

These questions were briefly explored during a panel discussion at the first conference held on climate engineering in Berlin Germany during August of 2014, titled Climate Engineering Conference 2014: Critical Global Discussions. This presentation would share those panel remarks and then expand upon them, namely those made by Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics from Charles Sturt University, Australia, who is an internationally acclaimed intellectual, philosopher, and writer on the ethics and politics of climate engineering. Prof. Hamilton noted that a problem with western modernity is its preoccupation with economic growth and a subsequent perversion of the natural human desire for a sense of self, recognition and acknowledgment. That is, this natural human desire has been corrupted into being satisfied by material affluence through the value systems of western societies (i.e. greater recognition is given to those who make the most money).

Prof. Hamilton's remarks on what human beings desire describe a specific level of desire identified by the father of humanistic psychology, Abraham Maslov, in his hierarchy of needs. Maslov's hierarchy of needs range from physiological needs (e.g. food & shelter), to safety and security, to love and belonging, to self-esteem, and then culminate in self-actualization (becoming all one is capable of becoming). One cannot progress to a higher level until the lower needs are satisfied. Noting that societies benefit most from self-actualized individuals, when the needs and values of the self-actualized are contrasted with the values of modern societies, it becomes apparent that modern material values are working against self-actualization and prosperity. The suggestion is made that values that truly address the fundamental and natural, innermost needs of human beings will better serve human evolution, material prosperity, and place societies on a track towards greater global sustainability. To quote Clive Hamilton, “I still believe, and I will believe, that we can change that (our values), so that human beings can develop their sense of self, their identity, a feeling of recognition and acknowledgment from lifestyles that don't require us to trash the planet.”