What would 3 degrees mean? The contributions to the discussion by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop are reproduced here. Ian and David are also the authors of the recent reports What Lies Beneath: Climate change, conflict and risk.
The effects of human-induced climate change are apparent now and will become severe this century, but the warming is expected to last thousands of years. That is so because extra carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for a very long time, but also because changes in the climate are triggering changes in the Earth System as a whole, changes that cannot be undone.
If it is a crime to transform the Earth into a hot and less habitable place what are the offences committed by those responsible? A panel of eminent jurists this year published some principles to guide us.
Corporations causing harm to people through their emission of greenhouse gases may be subject to tort law and may be sued for damages. The Principles observe that States are obliged to protect human life and the integrity of the biosphere through an existing network of national and international obligations.
Looking back on the last two decades of denial, delay and obstruction, there have been perhaps two hundred individuals who should be held most culpable, if not by the courts then by history, for failing to prevent harm or of obstructing others from taking measures to prevent harm.
Above all, in denying the evidence or failing to take action commensurate with the known danger, these individuals have been violating their duty to the truth.
A new dispensation Duty to the truth and the obligation to avoid actions that harm others are powerful principles firmly rooted in the universal framework of legal and ethical codes.
Yet before the enormity of what humankind has now done, I cannot help feeling that these grand constructions are frail and almost pathetic. Let me explain why. Moreover, Earth System scientists have been telling us that it is no longer possible to isolate the climate system from the rest of the Earth system.
It is not just the climate system that is being disturbed but every component of the Earth system — the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the cryosphere, the biosphere and even the lithosphere, that is, the crust and upper mantle. They are all interconnected and all of them have been disrupted by human activity in the 20th century.
The last-mentioned is most illuminating. Let me mention one further fact that stopped me in my tracks when I first read it.
It has been predicted that global warming from human activity in the 20th and 21st centuries will heat the Earth so much and for so long that it will suppress the next ice age, which is not due to arrive for 50, years, and quite possibly several ice ages beyond.
Ice ages and the inter-glacial periods between them are caused principally by predictable variations in the way the Earth orbits the Sun and tilts and wobbles on its axis.
Yet these properties of the solar system must now compete against a new force — a creature that shifts vast amounts of carbon from deep underground storage into the atmosphere. Once disturbed these processes may take an eon to settle down. So powerful have we become that we have taken the planet into a new geological epoch, leaving behind that happy 10, years of climatic stability and clemency known as the Holocene to enter the Anthropocene.
The International Commission on Stratigraphy is now going through a formal process of deciding whether it should add the Anthropocene to the Geological Time Scale, the scale on which the entire 4.
And so Earth scientists are now writing of human impact on a geological time scale. Human history and geological history have now converged.
These dazzling facts force us to rethink the place of humankind in deep history. A long time after we modern Prometheans disappear, or retreat to a position where we are no longer interfering in the Earth System, the great processes that drive planetary change — orbital forcing, plate tectonics, volcanism, natural evolution and so on — will overwhelm human influence.
But the planet will not settle into a state that looks anything like the Holocene; it has been diverted onto a different trajectory and there is no going back. We must concede what seemed impossible to contemplate — humans have become agents changing the course of deep history.
What does all this mean for justice and ethics? I would like to suggest that, without relieving individuals of culpability, when we step back and survey these Earth-shattering events our established ethical categories and legal principles appear banal and feeble.
Earth at dawn from the International Space Station. Some codify crimes against humanity. But where in a statute book would we look for the crime of subverting the laws of nature? What penalty would a court impose for killing off a geological epoch? If not unlawful then these monstrous acts are surely unethical.
Yet to see them as the result of a miscalculation about how to maximise human welfare, or a failure to act according to a Kantian universal maxim, as the dominant ethical theories would have it, somehow trivialises the magnitude of what has been done and which now looms before us.
The feebleness of ethics may be conceded in the case of consequentialist and duty ethics, but what about virtue ethics? Are we not in this predicament because hubris has defeated humility, because self-interest has trumped concern for others?
Perhaps, but the virtues that guide us in daily life tell us nothing about the place of humans on the planet, and that is now what is at stake. The attempt to frame a transformed climate by mere ethics risks normalising an event without parallel, of rendering prosaic a transition that is in fact Earth-shattering.
If the imprint of humans on the functioning of the Earth system has become so large that we have initiated a new geological epoch, the recourse to law and ethics leaps over a more foundational question: What kind of being made these laws and ethical codes, and what kind of being changed the course of Earth history?
Philosophy since Descartes had answered the former question definitively, and since then it has exercised only a few in the shadows.
But unless we open it up again we will flounder around attempting to understand the dilemmas of an ontologically new epoch with the categories of the old one.民間普遍有一種說法：「年關難過」，似乎有些道理。新年伊始、季節更替之際，面對許多生死大事，尤其過年之前看到幾個.
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