Editorial brush-ups on June 13, 2010

Climate Change and the Ethics of Responsibility:
The View from Ontario


Centre of Ethics/UT’s event – Munk Ctr, U of Toronto, April 27, 2010.

c/o Melissa Williams, Director & Prof. of Political Science, UT


The position statements of 4 of 5 panelists will be “edited and webcast”, no date announced at forum.

http://www.ethics.utoronto.ca/index.php > Public Forums > Past Events

NO Powerpoints used, just oral, so no uploads expected


From page above:

Ted Parson, Joseph L. Sax Collegiate Professor of Law, University of Michigan
Steven Vanderheiden, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Colorado at Boulder
Skip Willis, Principal, Willis Climate Group
Keith Stewart, Director, Climate Change Program, WWF

Jane Gray, Ontario Climate Change Secretariat”

[Steven V = Associate Prof. ; WWW = World Wildlife Fund]


Below: web search results on panelists + notes from statements


***Steven Vanderheiden

Associate Prof., Department of Political Science, University of Colorado, Boulder

Interests: Normative political theory and environmental politics




Atmospheric Justice: A Political Theory of Climate Change (2008)


Political Theory and Global Climate Change (ed., 2009)



defined 3 senses of “responsibility” – causal, non-causal, remedial (called it, tongue-in-cheek somewhat, the “philosophical” p.o.v.)

CC ethics = quasi-legal issue

The remedial sense of “responsibility” must be applied; the question to ask & negotiate, How remedial obligations are apportioned (richer poorer countries…); if we go according to responsibility as guilt, won’t go far; nor can we get much out of holding “responsible” natural phenomena (bad luck).


Thus, mitigation/adaptation obligations are the ethics of CC, what nations and groups can/should be held responsible for. This would allow to base it on climate justice literature.

Encourage being responsible as proactive.

Go for preventative action/mitigation, rather than after-the-fact adaptation.


CC as moral-ethical issue = leftist position; SV has been trying to win debate with Graham Saul, Executive Director of the Climate Action Network – Canada, admits hasn’t won yet (hat tip to Canadian audience?)

(cf. Graham Saul: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAzoCNOX1xo&feature=related)


SV noted that for the last 5 years there has been a decrease in energy use, which is due not just to economic recession but also initiatives at all levels – farmers, 1st nations, medium size businesses => workable solution, fair and effective means of living up to our responsibility

(did I get this right?; what initiatives? – perhaps yes, if the drift is not to pile up financial responsibility on big business only, but for all to do their share, however economically underprivileged)


Ended with “we must craft a new common sense approach of our attitude to the planet”, added a quote from author-educator-environmentalist Bill McKibben’s latest book Eaarth (http://www.billmckibben.com/books.html), roughly, [we must carefully and gracefully live on the planet which is the only home we’re going to get]


***Ted Parson

Professor of Law and Professor of Natural Resources & Environment at the University of Michigan




1. CC is a technological not moral issue

2. treating it as a moral issue can spin off in totally unproductive directions

3. significant magnitude of uncertainty re CC

it’s bad but we don’t know how bad = not hard science

nevern-ending policy debates due to left-right polarization

drift – cannot push for an extreme left (or right) solutions, compromise needed

4. not individual but collective political act

investors must be convinced & motivated to sponsor technological innovation

5. phenomenon of unprecedented scale – “trainwreck in slow motion”


mentioned in passing to use geoengineering (presumably, doing it cautiously!) – which Prof. Pierrehumbert, geophysicist UChicago, opposed as a “moral abomination” without hesitation last week, Thursday lecture http://www.atmosp.physics.utoronto.ca/noble.html


Summary & conclusion

Govt’s are failing; what is being done is not out of the starting block yet; multiple pernicious forms of obstruction, e.g., a massive denialist mvmt; (extreme) opinions on the right vs. left

Drift – A technological solution is plausible/doable, let’s go that way without delay.



***Keith Stewart

PhD degree in Polit Sci, from York U; has taught at York, UT, Ryerson, Trent

blog: http://blog.wwf.ca/blog/author/keith/

book: Hydro: The Decline and Fall of Ontario’s Electric Empire and has authored a number of articles on climate change policy and politics.

CC is both technological and moral issue; easy and hard;…

it should be easy – cost of reductions = 1% of GDP (did not present calculations; reference = his book, perhaps?)

Started and ended with his recurring rhetorical question: So, WHY is this so hard, 1% of GDP?!


***Skip Willis, currently with Ctr for Enviro, UToronto



started by jokingly noting that he’d been introduced as being “on the extreme left”, but on the panel is sitting on the extreme right (and didn’t sound all that leftist either)

false dilemma: economy vs. enviro – it’s been proven by practice that the two can agree:

British Petroleum under Sir John Brown – set goals & achieved them by 2006, saved $60,000 (NOT pounds?)

(panelists talked at lunch) Alberta tar sands/oil sands – if yes to development, why and how


WHY no progress re CC so far?

– fear of unknown; every day, industrialists compute currency risks, labour market risks, etc.


  1. optimistic scenario – start small, continue gradually => reductions can happen
    the metaphor of a young child being taught to swim – starts at shallow end of pool, water is not so cold, adapts gradually and successfully, withot fear or trauma
  2. pessimistic – everybody is waiting for a pioneer and everybody is afraid to be one => a deadlock
    pioneers in Ems Reds – California, BC, Alberta “in its own way”, but pioneers are the ones “with the knife in the back”


Solution: Gov’t regulation is a must; but should not be prescriptive

Open question: what industrialists can do in their sleep cannot be done because CC risks are undefinable


***Jane Gray, recently moved to Gov’t of Ontario – NOT VIDEOTAPED


Involved in Manitoba’s climate policy making, incl. on international stage

a.o.t., Executive Director of the newly formed Climate and Green … Board member of the International Institute for Sustainable Development



  • Part of it disclaimer – not speaking on behalf of Gov’t of Ont., still new here
  • Part pep talk (there were some international agreements reached at Copenhagen; TO mayor David Miller green cities initiative – Toronto, Vancouver, internationally – also met at Copenhagen)
  • Part positively diplomatic account of the past and future of CC handling – recognizes higher efficiency at sub-national level than at national level; Green Energy Act of Ontario  + CC is NOT the only enviro issue we (gov’t?) are dealing with
  • Wrap up – Ontario plans to phase out coal by 2015, the whole world by 2020 (?); should not focus on CC only but all enviro problems; some (Ont) jurisdictions are showing progress; young people are increasingly getting engaged in enviro issue solution (& employed)



A few observations, some, at least, not unexpected:



§      The people who came up to the mike for Q&A mostly stayed anonymous; 2-3 times as many left after the position statements.

§      An older gentleman insisted that we should stop spending on innovation and go back to cheaper technologies that worked just as well & did much less harm.

§      Another stood up in defense of Alberta as a whole and the oilers in particular: if they are developing the tar sands, they are going about it reasonably and responsibly. The “should” of the panelists’ discussion at lunch, which was referenced by Ted Parson above, was turned into an “is”.

§      On the more trivial side: 1 woman on the panel and 4 men, which pretty much reflected the ratio of bodies in the audience.

§      At the door, in front of the David and Vivian Campbell auditorium, forum attendees were greeted by activists from www.cleanairalliance.org advocating phasing out coal in Ontario not “by 2015” (current McGuinty Gov’t proposal) but “right now”. They were handing out cards to send to the Premier Dalton McGuinty. See the flyer, print and mail if you are so inclined.


§      Premier Dalton McGuinty

Legislature Building

Queen’s Park, Toronto ON M7A 1A

Editorial brush-ups on June 13, 2010