If a climate emergency is possible, is everything permitted?

Tuesday 29 July 2014
6.00 - 7.30pm

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Law School Foyer Level 2, Sydney Law School , The University of Sydney



Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, Melbourne University

Discussing geoengineering, climate change and ethics with Stephen Gardiner.

In the face of escalating climate change, some scientists are pushing for a serious research program on a dramatic global “techno-fix”: the injection of sulphate particles into the stratosphere to block incoming sunlight.  This approach to geoengineering – roughly, the “intentional manipulation of the planetary environment” – is often justified by appeal to the threat of a climate emergency.  I argue that this argument threatens to be ethically short-sighted and to encourage creative myopia.  It also underestimates what some opponents mean when they refer to sulfate injection as “a necessary evil”.  As a result, even if the emergency argument is in some sense valid, it misses much of what is at stake in thinking about geoengineering, especially from an ethical point of view.


Stephen Gardiner, Professor of Philosophy and Ben Rabinowitz Endowed Professor of Human Dimensions of the Environment, University of Washington

Stephen M. Gardiner is Professor of Philosophy and Ben Rabinowitz Endowed Professor of Human Dimensions of the Environment at the University of Washington, Seattle. His main areas of interest are ethical theory, political philosophy and environmental ethics. His research focuses on global environmental problems (especially climate change), future generations, and virtue ethics.

Steve is the author of A Perfect Moral Storm: the Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Oxford, 2011), the coordinating co-editor of Climate Ethics: Essential Readings (Oxford, 2010), and the editor of Virtue Ethics: Old and New (Cornell, 2005). His articles have appeared in journals such as Ethics, the Journal of Political Philosophy, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, and Philosophy and Public Affairs.

Steve has published on a diverse range of topics including intergenerational justice, the ethics of geoengineering, the precautionary principle, climate justice, Aristotle’s account of the reciprocity of the virtues, Seneca’s approach to virtuous moral rules, and Socrates’ political philosophy. He is currently co-writing Debating Climate Ethics (Oxford, forthcoming), a “for and against” book on climate justice, with David Weisbach of the University of Chicago Law School, and co-editing the Oxford Handbook on Environmental Ethics with Allen Thompson of Oregon State University.


Jim Falk, Honorary Professorial Fellow
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, Melbourne University

Lauren Rickards, Senior Lecturer
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, Melbourne University