Interesting article in Scientific American on the ethics of climate change, by John Broome, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford.
Formerly an economics professor, Broome notes that economists inevitably value current decisions by applying a discount rate. They do so, he says, without recognizing that a discount rate is a moral judgement: How can we value a future life, or a future quality of life, differently than a life today?
It’s a good read. It largely ignores more proximate issues: What are the costs of massive migration and resource wars, and what are the potential benefits of immediate investment in emerging technologies and industries. Historically, the cascading effects of wars and new technologies have far exceeded “realistic” forecasting. Choosing between resource wars and profitable new investment should be a no-brainer for any ethical person. The question for the financier might be this: which investment has a richer, more immediate payout, General Dynamics (a defense contractor) or Nanosolar (a new photovoltaic technology)? If you choose the defense contractor, you’ve made a morally indefensible discount-rate decision.
The comment train following the article is also instructive. It’s amazing how many flat-earth climate-change deniers are still out there, and reading Scientific American. –Seth Masia
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