Skip to main content
Login | Suomeksi | På svenska | In English

Ethics Getting Involved in the Climate Crisis : On Stephen Gardiner’s Ethics of the Climate Transitions

Show full item record

Title: Ethics Getting Involved in the Climate Crisis : On Stephen Gardiner’s Ethics of the Climate Transitions
Author(s): Snellman, Otto
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Degree program: Master's Programme in Philosophy
Specialisation: Practical Philosophy
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2021
Why those that are most responsible and capable in the climate crisis are not doing nearly enough? Stephen Gardiner argues that in addition to diagnosing the failures of ethical agency amid the crisis, climate ethicists should face them head-on. He outlines “ethics of the climate transitions” or, shortly, transition ethics. It aims to help in building ethical motivation for the institutional overhaul needed to limit the heating to 1,5°C. The work addresses transition ethics and the ambitious ideas on ethical action-guidance put forward in it. It is argued that transition ethics should be understood as concessive theory in David Estlund’s sense. It weighs moral correctness of principles and motivations with their practicability. In concessive transition ethics, the empirically informed diagnosis of the climate crisis and the advocated ethical prescriptions should be in constant interaction. Transition ethics should remain flexible about degrees and areas of concession. It should also stay properly modest: its prescriptions are not the ultimate expression of climate justice, but something to work on in the uncertain and complex circumstances of the climate crisis. Transition ethics is put to test by noting that climate ethicists are not insulated from the various problems of ethical agency that the climate crisis breeds. Appropriating Gardiner’s ideas and political realism, it is argued that transition ethicists are threatened by theoretical vices. These are rooted in the indeterminate approach of weighing practicability and moral constraints. By reviewing recent contributions in climate change communication and social and moral psychology, it is showed that Gardiner’s “moral corruption” diagnosis and “defensive ethics” may be subject to the theoretical vice of wishful thinking. Yet if transition ethicists guard against wishful thinking too eagerly, another theoretical vice called strategic inconsiderateness awaits them. The more specific root of the twin vices is located in the role of prescriptions in transition ethics. They may either overtly condition the diagnosis or be reduced to mere strategic communication. To get some clarity on the proper role of ethical prescriptions, the issue is further discussed in a context crucial for transition ethics, i.e., political legitimacy. It is argued that Gardiner’s argument called the global test is a condition of political legitimacy amid the climate crisis. The test shows why the prevailing but failing institutions should be rejected. Yet it is argued that the normative grounds of the global test and its status as a concessive and action-guiding prescription are ambiguous. Therefore, two alternative interpretations of the test are outlined, one based on political realism and other on Allen Buchanan’s theory of political legitimacy. It is concluded that the Buchanian approach is more apt as a benchmark of transitional prescriptions. It informs flexibility of concession and shows some limits to modesty and political realist suspicion. The conclusion is that relatively non-concessive ethical prescriptions may be an antidote against the theoretical vices amid the fog of confusion of the climate crisis. Ethical integrity may also help transition ethicists to be relevant for the global climate movement ushering the ethical climate transitions.
Keyword(s): climate change climate crisis action-guidance practical ethics virtue ethics political realism ilmastonsuojelu etiikka yhteiskuntafilosofia

Files in this item

Files Size Format View
Snellman_Otto_tutkielma_2021.pdf 800.1Kb PDF

This item appears in the following Collection(s)

Show full item record