[VIDEO] Climate Policy and Climate Ethics: A Debate on Justice and Our Global Future

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM
6th Floor Board Room at The Wilson Center


Please join the Wilson Center and the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University for a lively debate between two of the most trenchant scholars on the human dimensions of climate change and the relevance of ethics in creating global climate policy. 

The Paris Agreement last year has been heralded as a sea change in global climate change policy. For the first time in 20 years governments have agreed in principle to limit emissions and created a platform to encourage increasingly ambitious responses. But is the outcome a just one? And does it matter? 

Stephen Gardiner argues that climate change is fundamentally an ethical issue. A robust response must attend to difficult issues, including justice, rights, political legitimacy, and humanity’s relationship to nature. Consequently, climate policy that ignores ethics is at risk of “solving” the wrong problem, perhaps even to the extreme of endorsing forms of climate extortion. 

In contrast, David Weisbach argues that existing ethical theories are not well suited to addressing climate change because they suffer from internal logic problems and suggest impractical strategies. He argues that the central motivation for climate policy is straightforward: it is in the common interest of people and nations to dramatically reduce emissions in order to prevent terrible harms. 

Gardiner and Weisbach are co-authors of Debating Climate Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2016). This is their first public appearance together since its publication this month. Following their debate, a panel of climate policy practitioners and academics will discuss the practical implications of this exchange. A continental breakfast will be served before the event begins.


David Morrow
Visiting Fellow, George Mason University


Stephen Gardiner
Rabinowitz Professor of Human Dimensions of the Environment, Professor of Philosophy, University of Washington, Seattle

David Weisbach
Blum Professor of Law, Senior Fellow at the Computation Institute and Argonne National Laboratory, University of Chicago

Moderator: Roger-Mark De Souza
Director, Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience, Wilson Center

Panel Discussion

Alyssa Bernstein
Associate Professor of Philosophy & Director, Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics, Ohio University

Gwynne Taraska
Associate Director for Energy Policy, Center for American Progress

David Waskow
Director, International Climate Initiative, World Resources Institute

Moderator: Andrew Light
University Professor, George Mason University; Distinguished Senior Fellow, World Resources Institute

The conversation is part of the ongoing “Managing Our Planet” series, jointly developed by George Mason University and the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute and Environmental Change and Security Program. The series, now in its fifth year, is premised on the fact that humanity’s impacts are planetary in scale and require planetary-scale solutions.

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