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The recent Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that continuing inaction on climate change presents a significant threat to social stability. IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri put the matter succinctly in stating recently that the new report shows how our persistent inaction on climate change presents a grave threat to 'the very social stability of human systems'.
The Anthropocene Project attempts to make philosophical sense of this, examining the reasons for the inaction highlighted by the IPCC, and suggests the normative bases for overcoming it. Williston identifies that we are now in 'the human age' -the Anthropocene-but he argues that this is no mere geological marker. It is instead best viewed as the latest permutation of an already existing moral and political project rooted in Enlightenment values. Williston shows that it can be fruitful to do climate ethics with this focus because in so many aspects of our culture we already endorse broadly Enlightenment values about progress, equality, and the value of knowledge. But these values must be robustly instantiated in the dispositions of moral agents, and so we require a climate ethics emphasizing the virtues of justice, truthfulness, and rational hope.
One of The Anthropocene Project's most original claims is that our moral failure on this issue is, in large part, the product of motivated irrationality on the part of the world's most prosperous people. We have failed to live up to our commitments to justice and truthfulness because we are, respectively, morally weak and self-deceived. Understanding this provides the basis for the rational hope that we might yet find a way to avoid climate catastrophe.
1: Introduction: Climate Change and the Virtues
2: The Anthropocene Project
3: The Spectre of Fragmentation
7: Conclusion: Will They Forgive Us?
Dr. Byron Williston is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Wilfrid Laurier University. He received his PhD in Philosophy at The University of Toronto, and has taught at the University of Toronto, The University of South Florida, and Wilfrid Laurier University. He is the author of Environmental Ethics for Canadians, 2nd edition (forthcoming, Oxford University Press) as well as numerous articles on the History of Philosophy, Ethical Theory, Environmental Ethics, Epistemology, and the problem of motivated irrationality.