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.