22 July 2010

Climate Justice

This is the longer version of a review I have just written for Alban Books’ Facebook page:

James B. Martin-Schramm, Climate Justice: Ethics, Energy, and Public Policy, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010.

Climate change is now very well documented, and its apparent connection with the combustion of fossil fuels and certain land use practices raises important ethical questions. In this important new book Martin-Schramm grapples with these issues at a public policy level, looking particularly at the ethical responsibility of industrialized countries, especially the United States.

In his opening chapter, he proposes an ethic of ecological justice based on the moral norms of sustainability, sufficiency, participation and solidarity. These norms are complemented by a series of twelve guidelines – equity, efficiency, adequacy, renewability, appropriateness, risk, peace, cost, employment, flexibility, timely decision-making and aesthetics – to create a toolbox of ethical resources that he applies to the issue of climate justice in the subsequent chapters.

Chapters 2 and 3 offer an optimistic survey of the range of energy options currently available to the United States. The first deals with so-called conventional energy options – coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power – and the second with alternative/renewable sources of energy – solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, marine. He mentions the concept of peak oil but does not dwell on its implications, opting for the relatively optimistic view that global oil production will not peak until about 2026. He is similarly optimistic about uranium supplies. However, he proposes that we should shift from conventional to renewable energy for environmental (and security) reasons and seems to believe this is a feasible (if difficult) way forward.

Chapter 4 explores international climate policy just prior to the Copenhagen summit at the end of 2009. Viewed in the light of the ethical toolbox developed in chapter 1, he commends the Greenhouse Development Rights Framework proposed by the Stockholm Environmental Institute.

His fifth chapter focusing on US climate policy paints a bleak picture of fine words unmatched by effective action. He concludes that “Failure to take aggressive action now to reduce emissions will perpetuate current rates of GHG emissions and condemn future generations to a rate and degree of warming unprecedented in human civilization’ (p. 158).

He concludes with a case study, examining greenhouse gas reduction strategies implemented by Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. This concluding chapter demonstrates how individual institutions and communities can implement energy policies that meet the ethical criteria spelled out at the beginning of the book.

As indicated above, my main reservation is that I think he is unduly optimistic about continuing conventional energy supplies and our capacity to move seamlessly from conventional to renewables. An increasing number of authorities believe that global oil production has already peaked. As for uranium, which he suggests is good for another 80 years or so, other estimates suggest that if there is a significant rise in civilian use production could peak within the decade. That reservation apart, Martin-Schramm has produced a very helpful practical survey of climate justice issues for anyone involved in the development of energy policies whether at community, company or national government level.

No comments: