Saturday, September 1, 2012

PF Oct 2012 Mitigating Climate Change Definitions

Resolved: Developed countries have a moral obligation to mitigate the effects of climate change.

EDIT: I have struck out a few sentences below, realizing I was incorrect about "effects".  Somehow I missed that important word.

Developed Countries
The definition of developed country may seem intuitive but it is not.  It appears the framers of the resolution wanted to limit the responsibility for mitigation to those countries most capable of doing something about it but I am not sure if the framers intended the responsible group would be the ones contributing the most to climate change.  But in fact, by many indices which list the so-called developed nations, China, India, Pakistan and Russia are not considered "developed" (src:  So, if the debate needs to specify nations, the choice of definition can become a source of contention.  Generally speaking, the definition is rooted in economic terms.  Developed countries tend to have the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, have well-developed infrastructures for transportation, communications, and energy and by some definitions, have moved beyond an industrial-based economy into one that is more service-based.  In other words, the majority of the GDP is generated by the service sector rather than the industrial sector.  Of course, by those measures, the definition would be continuously revised as the bar continues to rise.  The U.N. also has a hard time defining "developed" but does recognize there are developed regions such as North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia/New Zealand, but acknowledges "There is no established convention for the designation of "developed" and "developing" countries or areas in the United Nations system" (src:

The World Trade Organization says member nations simply announce they are "developed".

"There are no WTO definitions of “developed” and “developing” countries. Members announce for themselves whether they are “developed” or “developing” countries. However, other members can challenge the decision of a member to make use of provisions available to developing countries."

Given the vagueness, perhaps it is best if we back into a definition later after we find out how big of an issue it will be in the case to be developed.  For example, if we find out a nation like China is one of the leading contributors to climate change it may be important to find a definition which includes China as a developing nation.

Moral Obligation
Again, we have a somewhat nebulous terminology to define and in the context of this resolution it is even more difficult.  After all, one may claim, individuals have moral obligations, but nations?  One can give very convincing warrants that nations are not moral entities and so can not be morally culpable for anything.

As an adjective, moral means right as opposed to something which is wrong.  An obligation is a promise, duty or commitment. So we can say a moral obligation is a duty to take an action which is right (moral) and in this case, the moral action is to do something about climate change.  There is much to be said about moral obligations and indeed I could finish the remainder of this blog post with the discussion and progress no further to the meat of the required debate.  I'll try not to do that.

A moral obligation does not mean one has a legal obligation but one can argue that fulfilling a legal obligation is a moral obligation. Huh?  Let me explain.  I may have a moral obligation to help my neighbor, but there is no legal requirement for me do so.  If I choose not to fulfill my moral obligation to help, the 'morality police' will not be knocking on my door.  On the other hand, many would agree there is a moral obligation to obey the law (assuming the law is legitimate and does not harm others).  If I have a legal obligation to pay taxes and I choose not to, I have failed to fulfill the moral obligation to obey the law.

Another important aspect to moral obligations is, whereas, I may have a moral obligation (because there is no legal obligation) I can indeed choose not to fulfill it and in some cases that choice may be the most prudent course of action.  The example usually cited is the example of the drowning child.  If I see a child drowning, I may have a moral obligation to try to rescue the child, but if I can not swim I may choose to not attempt rescue rather than risk the loss of two lives.

Similar to the drowning child example is a plethora of scenarios which relate consequentialist or utlilitarian principles and now we really plunge from the nice safe shores of public forum debate into the murky waters of philosophical analysis.  Let's say for example, I have a moral obligation not to kill, but if I kill a terrorist before he detonates his bomb I could save dozens of lives.  I am facing a utilitarian decision in which I could reason it is better to kill one rather than allow many to die.  The decision is consequentialist because I reason the ends (the consequences) are justified by the means so I kill the terrorist despite my moral obligation against committing murder.  Other philosophers, may argue I should never violate my moral obligation and some like Immanuel Kant should consider my actions a "categorical imperative" if they can be universally applied to all persons and as long as I never use people as a mere means to an end.

Believe me, PFers, this can get deep and it seems crazy to take a crash course in philosophy now, especially novices. I'm not sure how deep we must go so for now I think it sufficient to hit the general concepts of moral obligations.  Rather than me taking you in deeper and then triggering a moral obligation to rescue you, I will leave it to the experts.  This paper from the Yale School of Law will help you make some sense of it the legal aspects fo moral obligations ( or here for Kant's view and read this for an in depth look at utilitarianism

The more and more one researches moral obligation the more one realizes it becomes as vague a notion as "developed nations".  Therefore, once again, I think we need to back into a definition depending on the nature of the case and try to establish a working definition which meets the requirements we expect in the context of the debate.

To lessen, make less severe or painful. The meaning seems clear enough in isolation. Well, as long as we don't have to answer the question, how much must I "lessen".  We shall examine this more fully below.

Climate Change and Mitigation
Of course climate change can be loosely defined as a -er- change in the climate where climate is considered the average weather conditions for a region over a given period of time.  There is no point in getting bogged down with this definition.  Everyone who is looking at this resolution and who has even the minimum of a middle-school education knows we are talking about global warming, the perceived upward temperature trend the earth has been experiencing since, well, since the end of the last ice-age, some periodic glitches notwithstanding.  When we combine our understanding of climate change with mitigation, we realize developed nations have a moral obligation to lessen global warming.  To be sure, I think we do need to be a little precise and not allow interpreting this to mean, mitigate the EFFECTS of global warming.  After all, I could place you in an air conditioned building and mitigate the effects of global warming on your body, but it would have practically zero effect on the problem of global warming and may even worsen it over time.  In any case, I don't think such precision will be an issue in most debates since we are not inclined to present plans in Public Forum Debate.

Framing the Positions
Public Forum debate has no "prescribed set of burdens" for Pro or Con.  Pro will advocate there exists a moral obligation for developed nations to mitigate climate change, but Pro need not discuss whether climate change is anthropogenic (caused by humans) and need not prove if it is reversible.  Pro will simply argue that these nations have a moral imperative to do something and to a lesser extent, perhaps, Pro must argue that the action must have some kind of measurable effect.  Perhaps not stop global warming but at least reduce it slightly or slow its rate otherwise, do something to lessen the impacts on people.  For sure, Pro does have the option, to argue that yes, nations do have a moral obligation but it may not be prudent to act upon that obligation because the result of the action could have even worse disadvantages. (More on this in a later post.) 

Con, on the other hand has fairly limited ground.  Again because they have no burden of proof, they can simply advocate:
  1. There is no moral obligation to mitigate climate change
  2. Nations are not moral entities (a legitimate but tricky debate)
  3. There is no climate change which needs mitigated (an even trickier debate).
So really, that kind of leaves Con with refuting the moral obligation. Period.

Part 2 click here


  1. I think that by missing the word "effects" in your initial analysis, you have not correctly framed the two positions. Wouldn't the phrase "effects" lean to a more adaptation-based approach, rather than the reduction of current emissions? Please correct me if I am wrong, I am no expert on climate change.

    1. You are correct. I was fixated on the adaptation vs mitigation debate which failed to be voted in by the NFL coaches so I erroneously thought adaptation was rejected. I struck out that language when I realized I was wrong and in later posts have included mitigation of effects in the Pro position.

  2. Are you going to elaborate on the "nations are not moral entities" con position in a later post, because I am finding that position very difficult to research.

    1. I heard one LD debate several years ago where this position was debated brilliantly, but have never heard it since and could not find the sources. When I find it, I will post it. I did say it would be a 'tricky' position because it is difficult to research.

  3. How can pro argue that a moral obligation exists but then turn around and say that the obligation need not be fulfilled? Wouldn't an unwise course of action not be the moral course of action?

    1. It is complex and depends on the moral philosophy one wishes to advocate. Given a moral obligation I can choose to ignore it or I can decide attempting to fulfill it creates other serious problems. Either way, it does not necessarily nullify the obligation. On the otherhand in some cases one can argue, that "ought" presupposes "can". But this author explores examples where that may not necessarily be true.

      Finally, some moral theorists will say one should attempt to fulfill the obligation even if failure is possible and others will say moral obligations are absolute.

  4. If someone is a pufo debater and would like to help me please email me at . No one on my team is a pufo debater and I can't find any good resources online. Thanks!

  5. can you make a good pro/con case please?

    1. In the past, I've written my own cases and I've debated them but I've never written a case for a student. I'll give you analysis, commentary, sources, ideas and advice. You write the cases. If you are novice, look for my articles on Writing Your First Case, to be released soon. Hopefully you'll get a pretty good idea how to do it on your own. If you want to just copy someone else's work, you should pay them and there are plenty of sites for that.

  6. Hello Mr. James Kellams.
    I'm working on this debate with my partner. We're currently researching and we can't seem to find any appropriate con reasons. Could you please give us some advice or direction besides the three points you have listed in the article?
    Thank you!
    Claire and Myra

    1. Hi,
      Not only are there three ideas here but you can also find three entire pages of ideas and evidence for the Con on this website. Click the Public Forum tab at the top of this page, look for the Oct (climate change) topic and click the words con, moral agency and framework. There you will find the help you seek. If you need more help, let me know.

  7. Mr. Kellams, is there any way I could get you to revise my Neg speech for PF?

    1. Look at the "About" page at the top of this post and you will find an email address for everydaydebate. I warn you. I am busy with my team, with this blog and with my work so looking at cases from random debaters may be the last thing I do in a day. I can not guarantee anything but I may be able offer a little help.

      Just curious, though. What about your coach?

    2. My coach has to handle around 50 students, so just as yourself, is probably very busy. I will send you my speech, and if you have any thoughts, I'd greatly appreciate them!

  8. Hello from fourth period debate

  9. what are you talkiin bout


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