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Making Mitigation Happen
I have been thinking about the Con position and for me, the division of ground is not so simple or balanced. In the face of human suffering it is really difficult to take a position that basically says, we have no moral obligation to help. Even though the U.S. State Department has an organization (USAID) and protocol to deal with disaster relief there are rarely actions which are coordinated and financed by the U.S. in anticipation of disaster. In other words, we may see the conditions for disaster in advance and we may issue plenty of warnings ahead of time, but we will not, as a matter of policy, take steps to avert or mitigate the effects of the disaster prior to it happening. This does not mean, however, that there is no possible way we would ever take such steps. If Congress drafted a law which called for an action and funding was allocated, and the President signed the legislation into law and it was in compliance with constitutional law, we can intervene in advance. That of course, assumes the nation in which we intervene welcomes the intervention since we are not obliged nor permitted by international law to violate another nation's sovereignty.
Another way, the U.S. government could help avert foreseen disaster is to provide resources and remove barriers which enable Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) to act. These are private entities, such as religious organizations or humanitarian organizations which act on behalf of the U.S. with limited or no direct funding from the U.S. government.
Apart from the U.S., say any random developed nation, the actions it can or does take will be determined by their own internal laws and politics. Presently there is no international body which has jurisdiction which can enforce a law requiring states to take preemptive or mitigating actions.
So let's forget for a moment other nations. In the U.S. in order to create a policy to fulfill any "moral obligation" there must be legislation and funding and so it is certain there will be a great deal of political dispute over how to make it a reality, even in the face of impending disaster assuming the disaster will have minimal impact on the U.S. itself or its interests. If we allow there is a moral obligation, our ability to fulfill it is impeded by political will and budgetary constraints. This is the reality of how things work in the U.S.
Looking Out For Number One
The government's first duty will be toward its own people. The United States, at some point, may be forced to deal with the effect of rising sea levels on the state of Florida, for example. It would be really difficult to say the government has a moral obligation to move people out of Florida or help them purchase house boats as a way to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels due to climate change. Certainly they should be warned but warning is not mitigation. If one were to suggest, hey, United States...you have a moral obligation to help Bangladesh because it is really vulnerable to rising sea levels. Another would say, hey, forget Bangladesh, what about Florida? If fact, people in the United States are vulnerable to virtually every disaster scenario likely to strike others in the world. The difference is, because we are richer we are perhaps more resilient and capable to deal with the effects than a country like Bangladesh and so the scope of the disaster will be much smaller here than Bangladesh.
All of this raises an interesting question. If the U.S. government takes action to mitigate the effects of climate change for its own people, is it fulfilling its moral obligation as expressed in the resolution and does it flow Pro? I think, the resolution specified developed countries because there is an implied intent the developed countries should mitigate the effects for the poorer, more vulnerable countries. I suppose the developed nations could consider it a form of recompense but for what exactly, being more developed? This begs the question...
Why the Obligation?
Another possible argument is why do developed countries have this moral obligation in the first place? It is no crime to be rich and there is no moral imperative against progress. Although, a reasonable argument could be made, it is wrong to horde your riches and ignore the suffering of the disadvantaged if there are no harms arising from providing relief. In any case, the argument can be made, the U.S. has been paying back for decades and living up to its moral obligations as the world's hegemon. As Robert Kagan puts it:
"For the truth about America's dominant role in the world is known to most clear-eyed international observers. And the truth is that the benevolent hegemony exercised by the United States is good for a vast portion of the world's population. It is certainly a better international arrangement than all realistic alternatives. To undermine it would cost many others around the world far more than it would cost Americans--and far sooner."
In some respects one can argue we have no moral obligation to mitigate because our dominance through development and progress has already mitigated the effects by creating a world which is safer and more capable for managing disaster than any alternative political reality.
All of the preceding arguments and approaches to the Con case may have some merit under some circumstances. But when faced with images of the last polar bear floating away on a too small chunk of ice, or starving refugees huddled into disease-ridden encampments, it is really hard to argue that we need to take care of ourselves or claim we have some how already fulfilled our obligations. The answer, then, lies with attempting to go toe-to-toe in the impacts slug-fest. So the final and perhaps most effective argument that I can present for Con would be, attempts to mitigate the effects will cause more harm than good. For example:
- Current plans for nations to reduce their carbon "footprints" will force them to reduce both imports and exports in order to reduce transport emissions. The reduction will have short-term and long-term impacts on many poorer nations which depend on trade for their livelihoods.
- Shift to alternative biofuels will cause food products to be diverted to fuel production driving up the cost and harming exports which currently feed foreign markets.
- Many proposals for reducing or stabilizing climate change may have unintended consequences which are unknown and unpredictable,
- Mitigation efforts upset local economies and lifestyles of indigenous peoples.
- The economic costs are too high.
Link to discussion of moral agency of states
Some sources used:
The U.S. Foreign Disaster Response Process
Finding the Right Mix: Disaster Diplomacy, National Security, and International Cooperation
A Publication by The Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, Inc.
Charles M. Perry & Marina Travayiakis
Within twenty-four hours of a disaster declaration, OFDA provides up to $50,000 to the U.S. ambassador in the affected country for the purchase of local relief supplies (OFDA 2006, 10), though this amount can be quickly increased to $100,000 without much difficulty. If the scope of a disaster merits it, OFDA deploys a regional advisor and a disaster assistance response team (DART) to the affected area to conduct rapid assessments of the disaster situation, analyze the existing capacity of the host nation and other relief agencies, and, if required, coordinate operations on the ground with the affected country, other private donors and international organizations, and, when present, U.S. and foreign militaries.
Hellmuth M.E., Mason S.J., Vaughan C., van Aalst M.K. and Choularton R. (eds) 2011. A Better Climate for Disaster Risk Management. International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Columbia University,
New York, USA
The Benevolent Empire
by Robert Kagan
US government 'has met obligations for polar bear protection'
Federal judge rules that the government did not contravene the Endangered Species Act by failing to reduce emissions
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 18 October 2011 11.49 EDT
Mitigating climate change: what impact on the poor?
Martin Prowse and Leo Peskett
Risks of Climate Engineering
Gabriele C. Hegerll and Susan Solomon2
Grant Institute, Kings Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JW, UK. 2National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, Earth System Research Laboratory, 325 Broadway R/CSD, Boulder, CO 80305-3337, USA.
IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION MEASURES ON INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AND ON THEIR TERRITORIES AND LANDS
Submitted by Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Aqqaluk Lynge
IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change
The Competitiveness Impacts of Climate Change Mitigation Policies
J0seph E. Aldy 2011