Books  Environmental Studies  Philosophy, Ethics & Religion 

A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change

  • Gardiner defends a controversial thesis about the nature of the climate problem, arguing that because the problem is dominated by its intergenerational aspect, existing institutions and theories are poorly placed to cope
  • The book contains an in-depth analysis of geoengineering from an ethical perspective

Series: Environmental Ethics and Science Policy Series

By: Stephen M Gardiner(Author)

489 pages, no illustrations

Oxford University Press USA

Paperback | Mar 2013 | #211785 | ISBN-13: 9780199985142
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £18.99 $24/€21 approx
Hardback | Jul 2011 | #191372 | ISBN-13: 9780195379440
Temporarily out of stock: order now to get this when available Details
NHBS Price: £22.50 $29/€25 approx

About this book

Climate change is arguably the great problem confronting humanity, but we have done little to head off this looming catastrophe. In The Perfect Moral Storm, philosopher Stephen Gardiner illuminates our dangerous inaction by placing the environmental crisis in an entirely new light, considering it as an ethical failure. Gardiner clarifies the moral situation, identifying the temptations (or "storms") that make us vulnerable to a certain kind of corruption.

First, the world's most affluent nations are tempted to pass on the cost of climate change to the poorer and weaker citizens of the world. Second, the present generation is tempted to pass the problem on to future generations. Third, our poor grasp of science, international justice, and the human relationship to nature helps to facilitate inaction. As a result, we are engaging in willful self-deception when the lives of future generations, the world's poor, and even the basic fabric of life on the planet is at stake. We should wake up to this profound ethical failure, Gardiner concludes, and demand more of our institutions, our leaders and ourselves.

"This is a radical book, both in the sense that it faces extremes and in the sense that it goes to the roots."
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"The book's strength lies in Gardiner's success at understanding and clarifying the types of moral issues that climate change raises, which is an important first step toward solutions."
Science Magazine

"Gardiner has expertly explored some very instinctual and vitally important considerations which cannot realistically be ignored.  – Required reading."
Green Prophet

"Gardiner makes a strong case for highlighting and insisting on the ethical dimensions of the climate problem, and his warnings about buck-passing and the dangerous appeal of moral corruptions hit home."
Times Higher Education

"Stephen Gardiner takes to a new level our understanding of the moral dimensions of climate change. A Perfect Moral Storm argues convincingly that climate change is the greatest moral challenge our species has ever faced – and that the problem goes even deeper than we think."
– Peter Singer, Princeton University

"Lucid and written with a philosopher's precision"
– Steve Yearley, Times Higher Education

"The book's strength lies in Gardiner's success at understanding and clarifying the types of moral issues that climate change raises, which is an important first step toward solutions [...] A Perfect Moral Storm provides a rich analysis of the ethical challenges that we must tackle in the face of climate change. Gardiner effectively makes the case that while responding to and understanding climate change necessarily involves many disciplines, the effects of climate change on us, on future generations, and on the environment mean that we must determine the impacts of climate change fairly and how to weigh present-day sacrifices against future benefits."



Introduction: A Global Environmental Tragedy
I. Some Assumptions
II. Introducing the Perfect Storm Metaphor
III. Climate Change
IV. The Wider Relevance of the Model
V. Outline of the Book

Part A: Overview
Chapter 1: A Perfect Moral Storm
I. Why Ethics?
II. The Global Storm
III. The Intergenerational Storm
IV. The Theoretical Storm
V. The Problem of Moral Corruption

Chapter 2: A Consumption Tragedy
I. What is the Point of Game Theory?
II. Motivating the Models
III. A Green Energy Revolution?
IV. Consumption and Happiness

Part B: The Global Storm
Chapter 3: Somebody Else's Problem
I. Past Climate Policy
II. Somebody Else's Burden
III. Against Optimism
IV. Conclusion

Chapter 4: In the Shadow of a Common Tragedy
I. Climate Prisoners?
II. An Evolving Tragedy
III. Beyond Pessimism
IV. Lingering Tragedy
V. Climate Policy in the Shadows
VI. Conclusion

Part C: The Intergenerational Storm
Chapter 5: The Tyranny of the Contemporary
I. Problems with 'Generations'
II. Intergenerational Buck-Passing
III. Intergenerational Buck-Passing vs. The Prisoners' Dilemma
IV. The Features of the Pure Intergenerational Problem
V. Applications and Complications
VI. Mitigating Factors
VII. The Non-Identity Problem: A Quick Aside
VIII. Conclusion

Chapter 6: An Intergenerational Arms Race?
I. Abrupt Climate Change
II. Three Causes of Political Inertia
III. Against Undermining
IV. Conclusion

Part D: The Theoretical Storm
Chapter 7: A Global Test for Political Institutions and Theories
I. The Global Test
II. Scenarios
III. A Conjecture
IV. Theoretical Vices
V. An Illustration: Utilitarianism
VI. Understanding the Complaint
VII. Conclusion

Chapter 8: Cost-Benefit Paralysis
I. Cost-Benefit Analysis in Normal Contexts
II. CBA for Climate Change
III. The Presumption Against Discounting
IV. The Basic Economics of the Discount Rate
V. Discounting the Rich?
VI. Declining Discount Rates
VII. Two Objections to "Not Discounting"
VIII. The "Devil's in the Details" Argument
IX. Conclusions

Part E: Moral Corruption
Chapter 9: Jane Austen vs. Climate Economics
I. Corruption
II. The Dubious Dashwoods: Initial Parallels
III. The Opening Assault on the Status of the Moral Claim
IV. The Assault on Content
V. Indirect Attacks
VI. The Moral of the Story

Chapter 10: Geoengineering in an Atmosphere of Evil
I. An Idea that is Changing the World
II. The Problem of Political Inertia Revisited
III. Two Preliminary Arguments: Cost and "Research First"?
IV. Arming the Future
V. Arm the Present?
VI. Evolving Shadows
VII. Underestimating 'Evil'
VIII. An Atmosphere of Evil?
IX. "But... Should We Do It?"

Part F: What Now?
Conclusion: The Immediate Future
Postscript: Some Initial Ethics of the Transition
I. Introduction
II. The Ethics of Skepticism
III. Past Emissions
IV. Future Emissions
V. Responsibility
VI. Ideal Theory
VII. Conclusion

Appendix 1: The Population Tragedy
I. Hardin's Analysis
II. Population as a Tragedy of the Commons
III. Total Environmental Impact
IV. Conclusion

Appendix 2: Epistemic Corruption and Scientific Uncertainty in Michael Crichton's State of Fear
I. What the Scientists Know
II. Certainty, Guesswork and the Missing Middle
III. Conclusion

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Stephen M. Gardiner is Professor of Philosophy and Ben Rabinowitz Endowed Professor of Human Dimensions of the Environment at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is the coordinating co-editor of Climate Ethics: Essential Readings (Oxford, 2010), and the editor of Virtue Ethics: Old and New (Cornell, 2005). He is currently co-editing the Oxford Handbook on Environmental Ethics with Allen Thompson.

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