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"The Feasible Is Political" Stephen M. Gardiner

DAVID WEISBACH’S CALL for a “policy” approach to climate change that dismisses ethics is admirably serious, passionate, and engaging. It provides a deeply tempting account of the realities of global climate politics, especially for an affluent Western audience. Nevertheless, I believe we should largely resist this vision, since it fails to take seriously the ethical challenge of the perfect moral storm. Let me briefly highlight a few initial impressions.


Weisbach largely assumes away the intergenerational and theoretical storms, and especially the tyranny of the contemporary and lack of adequate intergenerational institutions. On the surface, this is done through a hardheaded assertion of the power of self-interest: climate change is about “saving our own necks.” However, this rhetoric obscures an intriguingly complex view: Weisbach supposes that conventional governments reliably pursue the interests of their citizens; adopts a three-generation conception of self-interest (“ourselves, our children and grandchildren”); declares that “even using a narrow notion of self-interest, it is in our self-interest to wisely govern use of the atmosphere”1; asserts that conventional cost-benefit analysis with high discount rates fully takes into account even distant future generations2; and assumes that these factors converge on the same climate policy. Unfortunately, these claims strike me as very bold, initially implausible, difficult to justify, and open to diverse and competing interpretations. (Notably, in this volume at least, they are largely asserted, rather than defended; moreover, some of the cited sources outside this volume make substantial concessions to ethics.3) Particularly noticeable is the optimism the intriguing view embodies about contemporary global politics, and the theoretical robustness of market CBA. Weisbach (rightly) worries about dangerous utopianism in ethics; yet economic realists must address the same charge, especially given the temptations of the perfect storm.

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