When in RoME…

As expected, the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress (RoME) in Boulder, CO, which I had the pleasure of attending, inspired some welcome moral pondering. In particular, the keynote address on Thursday of the congress, “What rights may be defended by means of war?” given by Dr. Jeff McMahan of Rutgers University, struck a chord.

McMahan’s talk was one about the permissibility of responding to lesser aggression with force or violence, and what conditions justify such retaliation. His talk was not environmentally related, but naturally, that’s the direction that my own thinking took his conclusions. In the interest of suspense, I won’t go into exactly what I’m thinking about because it will soon become an actual paper, so I’ll preface it with a question:

If the United Kingdom can permissibly defend its territory in the Falkland Islands from Argentine lesser aggression, could the Maldives defensibly wage war (making some generous assumptions about the Maldivian capacity to wage war) against the US, China, India, or other culpable European nations, in response to territorial losses from anthropogenic climate change related sea-level rise?

At this point, I absolutely do not suggest an affirmative or negative response to this particular question (and may never land on a suggestion within that dipole), but what this question fundamentally gets at (whether it’s at all or ever permissible for a state to wage war for environmental purposes) is certainly worth considering and may be increasingly pertinent in the future of geopolitics and moral philosophy.


JM Kincaid

I agree with almost everything, but…

Here’s the latest opinion piece from Thomas Friedman on natural gas and America’s energy future.

I agree with most of this — up to his suggestion of a carbon tax. It’s a good idea in theory and in consequence, but, as I discussed in we need a knowledgeable nudge, there is an impossible question that impedes its success: where exactly should policymakers set the tax in order to accomplish Friedman’s extremely specific goals? The problem with setting taxes is that policymakers almost never have the information they need to get it right because of “proprietary information” rules. Businesses keep their internal workings private, and claim competitive advantage when regulators inquire about their specifics so to properly set the tax. So, congress would have to take a shot in the dark and hope it lands the first time, because we know how politically intractable tax reform can become. Better to use a free market mechanism like carbon cap and trade, and then as a secondary measure of the program, a sort of fail safe for both corporate freedom and environmental protection, put a tax on carbon emissions beyond those permitted by the carbon market.

JM Kincaid

All roads lead to RoME

This coming week I will be taking a quick drive up to Boulder, Colorado, to attend the Rocky Mountain Ethics (RoME) Conference starting on Thursday. The conference was organized by Dr. Ben Hale, graduate director at the Environmental Studies department at CU Boulder, who has written some very interesting work in environmental ethics. Recently he wrote a chapter critiquing the ambiguity and vagueness of ethical objections to using geoengineering as a climate change mitigation tool — some of the objections he addresses are reminiscent of the Jevons Paradox. You can find the full paper here or just read the abstract here.

More to come soon from RoME!

JM Kincaid