Ethics in Economics

Climate change

The central concern in this chapter is to provide a broad background picture of the scientific, political and economic issues relating to the enhanced Greenhouse Effect. This initiates the exploration of links between different disciplinary perspectives and some common problems they share. As the structure of the book shows, understanding complex environmental problems requires moving from scientific knowledge of physical relationships and impacts to socio-economic variables in order to...

The response of unmanaged ecosystems

From the viewpoint of ecosystems functions, global climate can create stress which shows up in the composition of species rather than functional collapse. Species dynamics, and so biodiversity, can be more sensitive to stress than processes thus implying some notion of 'functional redundancy' Schindler, 1990 . This is similar to the concept of substitution amongst economic inputs to a production process and implies that the most vulnerable ecosystem functions are those for which few species are...

Solar energy

The solar energy reaching the upper atmosphere will vary with the distance between Earth and Sun, and the energy generated by the Sun. The Sun has gradually been increasing in temperature as its hydrogen supply has been consumed. In the time period during which higher life forms evolved (600 million years) the intensity of the Sun increased by 25 per cent (Sagan, Toon and Pollack, 1979). The impact of solar radiation on Earth's climate has been regulated in part due to the storage of...

References

Abrahamson, D.E. (1989) 'Global warming the issue, impacts, responses', in The Challenge of Global Warming, edited by D.E. Abrahamson, pp. 3-34, Washington, DC Island Press. Adams, J.A.S., M.S.M. Mantovani and L.L. Lundell (1977) 'Wood versus fossil fuel as a source of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere a preliminary report', Science 196(April) 54-6. Arrhenius, S. (1896) 'On the influence of the carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground', Philosophical Magazine and...

Regional impacts of greenhouse warming

The potential effects upon regional temperatures and climatic patterns can be quite different from global average temperature changes. Table 3.1 shows a relatively early example of prediction for GHG-induced temperature changes by latitudinal categories for three global average scenarios (Kelejian and Varichek, 1982). The temperature change categories are (I) the same as the last 30 years, (II) moderate warming and (III) large warming. This type of scenario modelling has been developed to...

Strong uncertainty

A repeatedly stated aim of the scientific community addressing the enhanced Greenhouse Effect is to reduce, evaluate and quantify uncertainties. This is reflected in calls for risk benefit analysis and similar deterministic quantitative approaches. However, contradictory messages appear across reports and within single documents. Such approaches sit uneasily with the recognition that 'Because of the uncertainties associated with regional projections, of climate change, the report necessarily...

Catastrophic surprise

The West Antarctic ice sheet could totally melt causing an average sea level rise of 6 m. During the last interglacial 132,000 years ago the temperature was 1 C warmer and sea level approximately 6 m higher (Goodess, Palutikof and Davies, 1992 109). The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet is discussed by Revelle (1983) and Schneider and Chen (1980). The latter estimate an 8 m sea level rise. The IPCC has reported that this event is unlikely under typical scenarios (Warrick and Oerlemans,...

The probability of the enhanced Greenhouse Effect

If standard scientific methodology and burden of proof are followed, an intricate chain of cause effect relationships is required to establish the nature of potential outcomes from increased GHGs. A key controversy has been the extent to which anthropogenic additions to the atmospheric concentration of GHGs will raise Earth's surface temperature. Much of the debate centres upon the role of feedback mechanisms', e.g. whether or not increased temperatures will lead to greater cloud cover and so...

Subjective probabilities as concepts of value

In order to make exclusive use of the weak uncertainty model, probabilities are required in association with all future states of the world. As explained earlier, an action leading to an event may be recognised as a possible (uncertain) state but without a probability being attached to the outcome. The probability itself may be unknown or non-existent. This may be because the event of concern is unique and therefore no frequency distribution can be estimated, e.g. the melting of the West...

Economic understanding of pollution

Pollution is often seen as an activity involving a limited number of actors or agents and so a readily identifiable source and target. In economics the case of a smoky factory being sited near a laundry or a firm polluting a stream used by a farmer are typical examples. Thus, pollution is described as an activity by one agent which imposes negative consequences on another agent who has no control over the activity harming them, termed an externality. The aim of environmental economics is then...

The theory behind economic assessment

Climate forcing could be reduced by cutting CO , CH , CFCs, N O or other trace gas emissions, and or increasing the sinks for these GHGs (e.g. increasing CO2 absorption by reforestation). A stream of consequences are associated with adopting such actions and these can be classified as costs and benefits. Optimal levels of GHG Figure 6.1 Marginal costs and benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions Figure 6.1 Marginal costs and benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions reductions are...

Attractions of the risk analogy

The essence of wanting to limit trace gas emissions is to avoid a state of the world in which an uncontrollable threat to human life support systems is created. The potential outcomes involved in the case of global climate change have been perceived by the international community to include extremely large damages, such as outlined by the five events above. This is also evidenced by the final statement of the 1988 Toronto conference on the issue which included representatives of 46 countries...

Forced migration and droughts in arid zones

As global warming becomes a predominant trend 50 million people living in the arid areas of the Third World will be forced off their land by persistent droughts. This kind of outcome is more speculative and is normally mentioned in general terms. As discussed by Keyfitz (1992) the poor are set to suffer most, be least able to adapt, and the problem of forced migration will be exacerbated by population growth. Where agricultural zones shift, the migratory pressures will increase on the rural...

The changing perception of science Knowledge and belief

There is a concern amongst some scientists that the type of media coverage given to issues such as global warming encourages 'bad science'. 'Bad' in this context refers to the lack of a notion of objectivity in the conduct of science. This objectivity might be seen as the conduct of repeatable experiments to test well-constructed hypotheses. For such a methodology issues of belief and subjectivity are non-scientific issues, and if such issues come to the fore the scientist is guilty of 'bad'...

Sea level rise

The Maldives are a group of islands off the coast of Africa. They are only a few metres above sea level and will be totally submerged due to rising sea levels, forcing the 177,000 inhabitants to lose their homes and be relocated. As Gribbin (1990 176) points out the 2,000 atolls which constitute the Maldives at no point rise more than 2 m above current sea levels. The upper bound of IPCC estimates for sea level rise are around 1 m by 2100, but storm surges at this level could easily inundate...