Environmental morality in the present

The burden must fall upon those best able to prevent climate change

Look away from the history of greenhouse gas emissions and just think about the present state of play. However you cut the pie, present emissions are anything but equal. There are, of course, different ways of thinking about inequality and what to do about it. Some argue that fairness demands that a finite and precious resource be distributed equally, and in the case of climate change, you can have the planet’s carbon sinks in mind. We end up with the same conclusions now as we did when reflecting on the history of emissions in the last post. We end up with the view that the developed world has a responsibility to reduce its emissions, probably drastically and quickly, given the great differences in present emission rates.

The point can be strengthened by thinking not just about emissions entitlements, but also about the varying capacities of rich and poor nations. Not all emissions have the same moral standing. Some emissions have more or different value, even if the quantity of emissions is just the same. The emissions resulting from an African farmer’s efforts to feed his family are not on a par with the emissions resulting from an American dermatologist’s efforts to get to Vegas for the weekend. There is a difference between subsistence emissions and luxury emissions, even if pinning it down takes some doing. There is a sense then, that the West has more room for reduction, more luxury emissions. Suppose that 60% of the emissions of the US Virgin Islands are luxury emissions and all of Rwanda’s emissions are subsistence emissions. It’s clear, just given these facts about present emissions, who has room to reduce and who doesn’t. Arguing the point is as good as saying that some Rwandans should die so that some Virgin Islanders can keep their DVD players on stand by.

The developed world is also better placed to make reductions in other senses. Think just about the United States, the world’s only Superpower. It has the brains and the know how, the infrastructure, the money, the technology – the list could go on – to do something meaningful about climate change. The fact that it has done so little in this connection can jar a bit.

You would have some explaining to do if you walked past a drowning baby and did nothing to save it. You would have a lot more explaining to do if you were a fit lifeguard. The greater your ability to do what’s right, the greater the onus on you to do what’s right. It is a very short step from this thought to the conclusion that the developed world is making an enormous moral mistake when it comes to action on climate change.

James Garvey has a PhD in philosophy from University College London and is Secretary of the Royal Institute of Philosophy. He is author of some books and articles, most recently, The Ethics of Climate Change (Continuum 2008)
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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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