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Ethics are important. The economic divide between the developed and developing world highlights the ethical dimensions of energy access in a climate-constrained world. Is it fair to hinder economic growth in developing countries because the wealthiest nations have changed the composition of the atmosphere and changed the climate of the planet? To what extent do the developed nations bear responsibility for not only remedying the problem, but also for compensating those people who are now suffering because of climate climate, or who could face tight emissions restrictions? As the economic balance of the world changes, what role should rapidly developing nations share in the responsibility to address these issues?
Here, we examine these issues through the lens of one country, Pakistan, which is struggling with a severe energy crisis that is holding back economic development and exacerbating political instability. Ethicists, economists, and others have developed a set of useful tools for deciding what to do when economic, environmental, and social values conflict. We will explain how some of these tools–including cost benefit analysis, the precautionary principle, and principles of justice–can help us evaluate aspects of the recent energy crisis in Pakistan, in which many competing values are at play. After months of rolling blackouts and documented impacts to economic growth, the Pakistani government decided to meet the current needs of their citizens by investing in coal and other fossil fuel technologies, rather than alternative sources of energy that many would argue are superior from the perspective of long-run sustainability. We use this example to illustrate how different general ethical theories use the tools we discuss to recommend different courses of action. One upshot is that ethics has many sophisticated tools but also involves many important unresolved questions–about how to make tradeoffs between different values, how to respond to risk and uncertainty, and so on. Another upshot is that ethics alone cannot settle what should be done in such complex situations–collaboration is also needed with those who have technical, political, and economic expertise. However, ethics can help clarify our reasoning, make our assumptions about values more explicit, and expose our values to critical scrutiny. In sum, we demonstrate the valuable role ethics can play when making decisions in the face of social and environmental challenges.
This panel, composed of members of Stanford's McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, appeared as part of Stanford's Energy Seminar series sponsored by the Precourt Institute for Energy and Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
Mark Budolfson received his PhD from Princeton, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford. His current research includes work on environmental philosophy, the legitimacy of international institutions, and general issues at the interface of ethics and public policy, especially in connection with collective action problems such as climate change and other dilemmas that arise in connection with common resources and public goods.
Blake Francis is a Phd Candidate in the Department of Philosophy at Stanford University. His research interests include political philosophy and environmental ethics. He is currently working on a dissertation on climate change ethics, which examines, among other things, how to make trade offs between preventing the harms of climate change and the social benefits provided by fossil-fuel use in energy, agriculture, and transportation. He received an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Montana, where he also conducted research in the Department of Forestry and Conservation. Prior to pursuing graduate work, Blake had a career in wilderness management and trail construction with the US Forest Service in Arizona and Alaska.
Hyunseop Kim is a Postdoctoral Scholar in Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University. Hyunseop completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at New York University in 2012. In his dissertation, he developed a non-consequentialist theory about our moral obligations to future people. He received a LL.B. and a M.A. in philosophy from Seoul National University, and studied at the Judicial Research & Training Institute in Korea. He served as a judge in Seoul for a while. He specializes in moral and political philosophy, currently working on Rawls and climate change, utilitarianism and population ethics, parental obligations and the non-identity problem, and non-natural moral realism and moral psychology. His most recent publication is ‘The uncomfortable truth about wrongful life cases’ (Philosophical Studies, forthcoming).
Debra Satz is Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society and Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University and coauthor of the forthcoming Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy and the Public.
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in your carpeted office you lay my life down / and say open up to that small room in my sternum.
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