Wednesday, September 5, 2012

PF 2012 Climate Change - Con

For part 1 of this topic analysis click here.
For more on Public Forum topics, click here.


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 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.

Mitigation Bad
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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Many proposals for reducing or stabilizing climate change may have unintended consequences which are unknown and unpredictable,
  4. Mitigation efforts upset local economies and lifestyles of indigenous peoples.
  5. 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
May 2008
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
Hanna Gersmann, 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.

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


  1. For Con I'm thinking of running a contention along the lines of a country can't have a moral obligation because a country isn't a moral agent. The individuals in the country can but the country itself can't being as it's not a entity but more of an idea. A country in itself cannot feel remorse or joy or guilt.

    Is that a good argument or is it argument that isn't even worth bringing up?

    1. I do think it is a good contention, but I would not make it the only contention. Add at least one more, for example an economic impact. Also, consider a case (Pro impact) turn which basically argues that attempts to solve the problem will make it worse. When you combine those with the moral agency contention you create several possible paths to win.

  2. Alright if I were to argue that then how would I win the argument? Being as I would be arguing that the resolution was wrong and not the people arguing PRO's contentions. Would someone be able to convince the judge that the resolution was flawed?

    PS I wrote the first comment.

    1. You are not arguing against the resolution, you must argue FOR a position. It just so happens the position is contrary to the resolution. So rather than argue against "developing countries have a moral obligation..." in your particular case, you argue FOR a position which says "..countries DO NOT have a moral obligation...". So your advocacy will basically be, "we contend there is no moral obligation because...1. countries are not moral agents 2. doing so makes things worse..and 3. blah blah blah...".

      A common mistake (in my opinion) is for a team to make their case nothing more than a refutation of the opponent's case but never establishing an advocacy of their own. This will be the subject of a post I will make in the coming days.

  3. My CON case
    Overall: Morals and policy making dont mix.

    Ob1. Morals dont apply to policy
    Ob2. Complications

    In observation 1, it has an example that says (paraphrase) "for example, a policy to slow down the effects of climate change wouldnt necessarily work" yada yada yada
    obs. 1 is pretty much- It takes a lot more than a "moral obligation" to put a policy like this into effect

    In observation 2, it pretty much says that while a normal citizen can put human rights above all else, a government has to think about consequences, national security, promotion of prosperity, etc. And when a subject like climate change is put up against problems like these, then no responsible government can put it above all else.
    And yes, i have a lot of anti-multilateralism evidence

    1. I'm liking the idea about the incompatibility of morals and policy. It is a "realist" perspective on international relations. If I may make any suggestion it would be to throw the judge a solvency bone. Otherwise, the judge may accept your case but end up wondering, "if countries can't/shouldn't do it then what is the solution?". If Pro offers a solution the judge may weigh the risks and lean toward Pro. No need to take a lot of time throwing it out there, but maybe suggest something. (just thinking out loud without hearing your case...)

    2. First off, I really like your site here. It helped me a lot. I really enjoy having someone to talk to about this stuff other than my completely biased debate team. Now, good news. I made a new con case, because I like to have two of each. I feel like its different, and not many people will have specific evidence against it.
      Here it is, with brief summaries.

      Cont 1. Kyoto Protocol
      Sum- The Kyoto Protocol was set up my the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in 1997, and it is currently the only attempt that has been made at curbing C02 emissions. It failed miserably.
      *Insert Einstein quote about insanity hear, link it with "If we make another attempt at a climate change policy and expect different results, we must be insane."

      Cont 2. Moral agency
      I took some information off of here and used it to make-
      Sum- Nations, developed or not, have no moral obligation to do anything, simply because they cannot. They meet One out of Five requirements to be a moral agent, therefore they cannot have a moral responsibility.

      Cont 3. The effects of a policy outweigh the benefits
      This makes me smile with nostalgia of a past topic, anywho, again I found arguments from your oh so helpful site to make..
      Sum- The effects of a policy to derail the climate change train have as much impact as climate change itself.

      Please tell me what you think. Constructive criticism is taken well by me. Thank you

    3. @Quentin
      Your contention on the Kyoto protocol illustrates the difficulty, or perhaps, "insanity" of managing the problem by treaty. The lack of international authority to enforce standards, harms the effort. Also, the effects outweigh benefits idea can be a strong contention in my opinion. I threw some nuggets into my analysis - glad you found them.

  4. I just finished up with the AW topic, so I haven't spent much time with the October resolution yet, but don't see much about causes vs. effects.

    Let's say Con demonstrates that mitigating the causes of climate change can have a larger positive net impact than the effects. Doesn't this imply that these nations have a moral obligation to mitigate the causes instead of the effects? I am no expert in moral theory, but it would seem that if fighting the causes will produce better results, the moral obligation would be to do that, rather than the effects. Mitigation of the effects can be entirely moral, even "morally recommended," but the better option would actually be morally obligatory.

    This feels way too simple to me though. Let me know what you think.

    1. I understand your reasoning. For moral theory there are probably two principle schools of thought it may help to be familiar with; the deonotological which basically says something is moral if it is right universally for all. And the utilitarian which basically says something is moral if it is right for the majority or maximizes the well-being of the majority. (over simplified to be sure)

      As to mitigation of the cause versus the effects, I interpret the position as affirming the Pro. Here's why:

      First, you acknowledge that mitigating the effects is still moral ("morally recommended") and even if there are bigger moral duties it does not eliminate the lessor duties. For example, I could say, rather than mitigate the effects it is more moral to eliminate war which has a bigger impact on humans. Clearly, there would be no mitigation of climate change effects and the judge may still think Pro's risks are significant enough to vote up.

      Second, according to some, the philosophical theory of causation (for example see: there is a one-to-one relation between cause and effect so mitigating the cause must mitigate the effect. By addressing the cause you reduce the effect by extension. If you deny that in round, Pro can very easily make the argument there is no direct causation, since we know there are non-human contributions to climate change (thus many causes) which would not necessarily be reduced if GHG emissions are cut. Therefore Pro would say, the effects will still occur and since you have done nothing to address this, your position is immoral.

      Your proposed framework is a cost-benefit framework (a kind of what I call comparative framework) which ordinarily works well in PF debate but this resolution is so LD-like, conventional approaches may be problematic. Those are my comments, without seeing a case so I hope they are useful and properly address your position.

  5. Thanks for the input. I haven't had the chance to discuss this with the rest of my team or my coach yet, and I appreciate someone pointing out major flaws before a debate, rather than in the middle of a round. I thought something seemed illogical, but I just don't have a great depth of knowledge on philosophy. I have a basic understanding of utilitarianism and deontology (I had to do LD for a final project), but not nearly enough to know about the theory of causation, which is something I'll have to keep in mind this month.

    Anyway, wouldn't a cost-benefit framework work as the foundation of a basic utilitarian argument? There is a post above this one with a contention that oulines the harms of mitigation and how they outweigh the benefits. Therefore, mitigation would actually be immoral.

    Thanks again for the criticism. It really helps.

    1. @Chris
      I think a cost-benefit framework is very viable for the Con as a way of negating the morality of trying to mitigate. It becomes difficult for me (my opinion,please understand) when Con makes the claim the morality of mitigation persists but there is a higher priority "moral" duty. In response, I briefly researched the idea of "degrees of morality" and I did not find good support in the literature except in very particular circumstances which don't link to the topic.

      If you say the cost-benefit analysis proves there is no moral duty to mitigate because it hurts more than helps then it makes sense to me regardless if the Pro is advocating a deont or util moral theory. If you claim the cost-benefit creates a higher degree of moral duty then I think, fine, but he is not eliminating the other duty being advocated by the Pro.

      I will say, your idea has got me thinking deeply about this and find the idea of conflicting moral duties very interesting and perhaps even very workable if properly done. But I wonder, can the concepts be conveyed in four minutes to a citizen judge? Very interesting indeed if this was LD.

  6. how would you structure a social contract argument?

    1. I assume you understand the social contract is a sort of unwritten, unstated agreement between people and their government. But I am not sure how you want to use the social contract with respect to the Con. I suppose one way is claim in an observation that to fulfill the social contract, a government has the oblgiation to look out for its own people and not the people of the world. To go further, I need to understand what you are trying to do with your case.

  7. Would a con case that argues for the mitigation of climate change vs the EFFECTS of climate change be, well, effective?

    Obviously it would be tricky to work this out, but the resolution specifically states that dev. countries have an obligation to mitigate the effects. Perhaps this includes building dams to stop rising water levels or, like you said, purchasing house boats for floridian residents.

    Could you argue therefore, that there is no obligation to stop the effects because the obligation lies in stopping the problem? If we simply mitigate the effects can we keep up with the increasing effects?

    1. I am not sure if nations can "keep up" but there is a sizable amount of evidence, the various species of plant and animal life will not be able to keep up (and of course we depend on those for sustenance). For the affected species, the only solution is mitigation of causes. I don't think it would be that tricky to make a workable contention of the idea.


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