What are people's and nations' responsibilities for climate change?

The press has primarily focused on climate change as a scientific or economic issue. On one hand, we are informed, sometimes quite poorly, about issues of scientific certainty. How do we really know that climate change is real and induced by industrial human activities? On the other, we hear from powerful members of the business community and their allies that responding to climate change will tank the economy. How can you assure us that the American or global economy won't tank if we move from greenhouse gas intense technologies?

Those questions either gloss over or ignore another, and perhaps more fundamental, aspect of climate change. Given that people from Bangladesh to sub-Saharan Africa to the Yukon are being negatively affected by a changing climate, who should help them? Who should pay? Who is responsible? Climate change, more than any other issue in history except perhaps nuclear proliferation, calls into question our global moral duties and responsibilities? Ultimately, this comes down to morality and ethics. What is the right thing to do?

For example, Inuit people are losing their ability to move on their native land because the permafrost is melting. They have not caused this situation and the only explanation available and has been available for some time now is that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from wealthy developed nations are the driver. The U.S., Europe, and increasingly the "tiger" economies of Asia have created more than their fair share of greenhouse gas emissions historically with the U.S. taking the lion's share at over 20% of total GHG emissions. Our emissions are tied, now quite directly, to melting permafrost and glaciers in the Arctic. Our flights, cars, agriculture, and industry have caused their difficulties. Should we pay for them? Why? What should we pay them? What is just?

On today's show, our guests include members of a recent panel on Climate Change, Climate Justice from Penn State's Rock Ethics Institute who attended the UNFCC Copenhagen Climate Talks in late 2009. Drs. Don Brown, Petra Tschekert, and Nancy Tuana will provide us insights from Copenhagen, what our moral responsibilities are, and what we as a country, a state, a campus, and as individual people can do to act most responsibly on climate change. For some initial insights, visit ClimateEthics.org.

We will also be briefly speaking to students who have helped organize Penn State's first Student Sustainability Summit going off next Wednesday night at 7 pm in Penn State University Park's HUB Heritage Hall. After the break, we will speak to some of the activists working on the Beyond Coal Campaign at Penn State who are trying to get Penn State to move off of coal.

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