Professor Clive Hamilton, Visiting Academic, Department of Philosophy, and Senior Visiting Research Associate, Oxford University Centre for the Environment
This paper develops a critique of the consequentialist approach to the ethics of geoengineering, the approach that deploys assessment of costs and benefits in a risk framework to justify climatic intervention.
Professor Hamilton argues that there is a strong case for preferring the natural, and that the unique and highly threatening character of global warming renders the standard approach to the ethics of climate change unsustainable. Moreover, the unstated metaphysical assumption of conventional ethical, economic and policy thinking—modernity’s idea of the autonomous human subject analyzing and acting on an inert external world—is the basis for the kind of “technological thinking” that lies at the heart of the climate crisis.
Technological thinking both projects a systems framework onto the natural world and frames it as a catalogue of resources for the benefit of humans. Recent discoveries by Earth system science itself—the arrival of the Anthropocene, the prevalence of non-linearities, and the deep complexity of the earth’s processes—hint at the inborn flaws in this kind of thinking. The grip of technological thinking explains why it has been so difficult for us to heed the warnings of climate science and why the idea of using technology to take control of the earth’s atmosphere is immediately appealing.
Clive Hamilton is Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE) and holds the newly created Vice-Chancellor's Chair at Charles Sturt University, Australia. He was the Founder and for 14 years the Executive Director of The Australia Institute, a public interest think tank. He is well known in Australia as a public intellectual and for his contributions to public policy debate. His extensive publications include writings on climate change policy, overconsumption, welfare policy and the effects of commercialisation. Recent publications include The Freedom Paradox: Towards a post-secular ethics and Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change