Posts tagged as:

climate change

What to do about climate change (1): Not too late

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 17, 2022

“The fact of the matter is: we are in the decade of decision. What we do in the Twenties will determine the fate of the Earth for centuries and millenia to come. And there’s a lot we can do – we can speed the transition away from fossil fuels, losen the death grip of the fossil fuel industry on our government and the world’s energy supplies, build the renewables, protect the soil and the forests, and support all the incredible movements that have already done so much so far, and have ambitions to do exactly what we need to do.” (Rebecca Solnit, Start Making Sense Clips, July 14th)

Yesterday, I discussed with some international colleagues chapter 4 of my book-in-progress on the problems with extreme wealth. That chapter looks at the links between wealth concentration and the ecological and environmental crisis, and ends up offering multiple ecological arguments for economic limitarianism. I open the chapter with a few pages that make it clear that climate change is not a future worry but that it has arrived, and that time is of the essence. Given that global emissions are not coming down yet and that the remaining carbon budget (to stay below 1,5 degrees or even 2 degrees) is very limited, we need to act fast and in a drastic manner. There is no time to go slow, and no time to merely fiddle in the margins.

It doesn’t make for joyful reading, yet most of what I describe that made my colleagues gloomy was merely factual. The facts simply show that matters are very bad and the situation urgent. But that is no reason to despair, since there are various feasible plans for curbing the emissions and speeding up the green transition, and various groups and movements that one can join in order to contribute. The main problems are political, and problems of power. Perhaps we should simply talk much more about what can be done, and what we can concretely do, rather than either deny that climate change is happening (thought that group seems to be shrinking), ignore that it is happening, or believe it is beyond our powers to do anything.

Two years ago I was invited to write a short piece for WWF’s Living Planet Report and argued precisely this – when it comes to the climate crisis, we need to see ourselves first of all as citizens and unite and act as such.

In that spirit, I was delighted to come across a new initiative from Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua, called Not Too Late. They want to encourage everyone to join the climate movement, to act as citizens to force politics to establish structural solutions, and to share stories about what climate movements are achieving. [click to continue…]

It’s time for the Green Human Development Index

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 16, 2020

The United Nations Development Program’s flagship index of wellbeing and social progress, the Human Development Index, no longer captures what humans need, and needs to be replaced by a Green Human Development Index. That’s what I’ll argue in this post.

First, some context for those who do not know the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is the main index of the annual Human Development Reports, which, since 1990, have been published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The reports analyse how countries are doing in terms of the wellbeing of their citizens, rather than the size of the economy. In 1990, the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq had the visionary idea that in order to dethrone GDP per capita and economic growth as the yardstick for governmental policies, an alternative index was needed. He asked Amartya Sen to help him construct such an index. The rest is history. The HDI became a powerful alternative to GDP per capita. It consists of three dimensions and several indicators. The first dimension is human life itself, for which the indicators are child mortality and life expectancy. The second dimension is knowledge, captured by school enrollment rates and adult literacy rates. And the last dimension is the standard of living, for which the logarithmic function of GDP per capita is used.

It is easy to criticize the HDI for not capturing all dimensions of wellbeing, or for other shortcomings. For whatever those academic arguments are worth, there is no denying at how successful the HDI has been at accomplishing its two primary purposes: to dethrone GDP per capita and economic growth as the sole yardsticks for societal progress, and to stimulate policy makers to put human beings central in their institutional design and policy making. And by that yardstick, the HDI has been a great success. Each year, the release of the Human Development Reports captures the attention of media and policy makers worldwide. Many politicians and governments care about their ranking in comparison with other countries. And, most importantly, the political power of the HDI provides an incentive for countries to try to invest more in education and health, combatting child mortality and increasing life expectancy.

Yet, it is now time to abandon the HDI. Paradoxically, this is not despite, but because of its political success. The reason is that we have entered the Anthropocene – the geological epoch in which the human species is changing ecosystems and the geology of the Earth. The most well-known of those changes that humans have caused is climate change. And since these ecosystems and planetary boundaries in turn affect human flourishing, they must be central in any analyses of that human flourishing. [click to continue…]

On our way to zero net emissions

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 3, 2019

In many avenues of my life, people are now discussing whether we should reduce our emissions and if so, how much they should reduce their emissions and what we will still permit ourselves to do (meat? flying? driving our gasoline car? buying some new stuff we would like but can also live without?). Academically, the question of the fair division of the remaining emissions, as well as the question whether we should frame this as a moral duty for inviduals or rather merely to those in power to change institutions, are part of the Fair Limits project that I’m directing. Politically, we’ve seen these questions discussed in newspapers, on blogs and on twitter, including penetrating comments such as this one by the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (who, according to Wikipedia, turns 16 today – happy birthday, Greta!):
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Individual emission budgets & footprints

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 22, 2017

It’s Global Earth Day, and this year the theme is environmental and climate literacy. I’d like to take us through an argument and a set of calculations. If what I write is correct, it only illustrates (but quite vividly, I think) the mess we’re in. So I hope that someone will convince me that what follows is wrong, or that the pessimistic conclusions do not follow.

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Before the Flood

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 6, 2016

I watched Before the Flood today, the Leonardi di Caprio film on climate change. I think it does a great job for three reasons. First, it brings the debate on climate change to the masses, which the articles that scientists write in Science or Nature won’t do, nor will the class with 25 graduate students to whom I taught climate ethics. It’s great to have in-depth and very detailed debates on either the science or the ethics of climate change, but this problem needs mass mobilisation. Second, it gives a more visual and narrative complement to an intellectual approach to climate change (have you ever tried to read the IPCC reports? You’ll understand what I mean). As Piers Sellars, an astronaut and director of the Earths Sciences Division of NASA says in the movie, he understood the problem of climate change intellectually for a long time, but only when he saw the fragility of the Earth from space, really captured the scale and significance of the problem. A film such as this one can be that non-cognitive complement for all of us. Third, Di Caprio interviews an impressive range of people from different sectors and different countries, which makes the movie interesting and rhetorically powerful. [click to continue…]

In 2014, the Dutch NGO Urgenda, together with 886 citizens, filed a law suit against the Dutch state for not taking sufficient action to limit climate change. Today, the court gave its verdict, which could live be followed on internet (in Dutch, without subtitles). The court has also immediately put an English translation of the ruling online. And the court has ruled:

The Hague District Court has ruled today that the State must take more action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands. The State also has to ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25% lower than those in 1990.

Many parties have called this a historical ruling, and no doubt this may inspire citizens and activist NGOs in other countries to take their States to court. Few commentators expected that the court would come to this ruling. Many believed that the court would not want to burn its fingers on what is essentially a political process; indeed, some have even gone so far to question whether the division of powers of the Trias Politica would be violated. Yet the court provided an answer to that worry:

With this order, the court has not entered the domain of politics. The court must provide legal protection, also in cases against the government, while respecting the government’s scope for policymaking. For these reasons, the court should exercise restraint and has limited therefore the reduction order to 25%, the lower limit of the 25%-40% norm.

The fact that the ruling only concerns 25% of CO2 reductions highlights that this is not the end of our struggles. A 25% reduction may be fanastic since it’s a court ruling (and that gives it a special kind of political status), but it is not enough. We should also not forgot the sadness of the situation – that we had to go to court to force the government to take action, in a country where legal action is generally not considered a way to do politics or bring activist concerns into the political arena.

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