Climate hope

Even if the scientific data is enough to make us pessimistic, the philosopher Darrel Moellendorf shows that we can still hope for climate justice. To catalyze hope, he highlights mass mobilization, technical progress and realistic utopia.

In his second work devoted to climate ethics, Darrel Moellendorf addresses a wide audience without sacrificing the rigor of the argument. The political philosopher, professor at Goethe University in Frankfurt, follows as his guiding principle the crucial question of hope: do we still have reason to hope to stem climate change and its catastrophic effects for the poorest and future generations?? Yes, he maintains. Although scientific predictions encourage pessimism, we can legitimately, we must, even! mobilize hope for climate justice, relying on mass social mobilization, technical progress and realistic utopia. This central thesis is remarkably deployed across eight chapters, like so many facets of the climate problem. However, the conception of hope that Moellendorf develops raises questions, particularly in its relationship to the facts and the perspectives offered by technical progress.

The possibility of hope

Faced in particular with climate change and the collapse of biodiversity, our time is conducive to pessimism, even eco-anxiety. Worse still, despair could contribute to the dreaded outcome. Hence the importance of Moellendorf's reflection on the concept of hope in the context of climate change. Even when we have reasons to be pessimistic, we can hope for the improbable, as long as it is possible, hope thus accommodates the uncertainty inherent in climate scenarios. Furthermore, hope has a practical and political dimension. On the one hand, as a capacity for projection into the future, hope makes action possible: Hope is an antidote to resignation and incapacitating anxiety (p.xii). On the other hand, certain measures can stimulate hope. both cause and effect of action, hope becomes a political object in the service of climate justice. It is therefore distinguished from optimism, this confidence in the probable advent of a better future, which can sometimes justify inaction. But make no mistake! Moellendorf does not, however, give in to blind voluntarism. Hope must be based on evidence, factors of hope (hope-makers), which both attest to the possibility of the hoped-for outcome and make it more probable (p. 33). It is on this ridge between despair, carefree optimism and waking dreams that the author seeks to walk throughout the book.

An essential question then arises: can we still hope to limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century compared to the pre-industrial era, knowing that the latest assessment report of the IPCC claims that the planet has already warmed by around 1.1°C? The role of uncertainty is crucial here. both uncertainty pistmicrelating to the limits of our understanding of climate systems, and the uncertainty moral, relating to the actions that will be taken or not, still provides the possibility of avoiding global warming of 1.5°C. Because of these uncertainties, there is hope. It is even required according to the precautionary principle which Moellendorf interprets in the following terms: one must take the necessary measures to avoid a catastrophe provided i) that one can observe or deduce some of its potential causes and ii) that the costs of prevention do not exceed those of the catastrophe. If we therefore do not have to protect ourselves against an extraterrestrial invasion (p. 47), we must, however, limit global warming to 1.5°C since a warming of 2°C could push hundreds of millions of additional people into poverty, while the costs of climate policies are lower.

Hope for climate justice

The central chapters deal with more traditional questions of climate justice. To the extent that fossil fuels have also been the source of many economic benefits, the fight against climate change inevitably raises questions of distributive justice. How, in particular, to combat both climate change and poverty? go from anti-poverty principle, Moellendorf argues the obligation of rich states to make financial and technological transfers, so that states less wealthy than them can implement mitigation and adaptation policies without sacrificing the fundamental needs of their citizens. However, arguments in terms of justice are not always sufficient to motivate states to act, the author also calls for solidarity of interests: all states would have an interest in promoting collective action against climate change. This would involve providing everyone with the means to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but also financing the adaptation of the least wealthy countries. Without this, rich countries cannot protect themselves against the potential indirect consequences of climate change such as conflicts and political instability caused by massive migrations: Countries around the world have a common interest in international peace and security. And peace and security are threatened by insufficient financing for adaptation. (pg. 118)

The fact remains that the emissions reduction commitments freely made by states within the framework of the Paris Agreement (2015) are barely sufficient to have reasonable chances of avoiding a dangerous climate change. And there is no guarantee that states will keep these commitments, as shown by the unfulfilled financial commitments of rich countries. However, Moellendorf rejects potentially hopeless analyzes of climate change as being a tragedy of the commons or an intergenerational tragedy, where agents are inevitably pushed into inaction by their narrow rationality. On the contrary, it highlights the numerous local and short-term co-benefits of the energy transition, whether the health and environmental advantages of reducing the number of thermal vehicles and coal-fired power plants or the economic benefits of renewable energies which have become, in most countries, less expensive than fossil fuels for electricity production. For the author, it is rather the divergences between the general interest and some private interests, notably those of the powerful fossil fuel industry, which explain the inaction of states. There is therefore hope of reversing the situation. Inspired by the thoughts of Martin Luther King Jr., Moellendorf sees in mass mobilization, the succession of large demonstrations in strategic locations, the only way to counter the power of money (p. 129). But, to catalyze hope, we need a transition project capable of garnering the support of a critical mass of citizens, a Green New Deal even create more and better quality jobs than those it destroys.

Catalyzing hope

However, even such a popular movement could fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C if emissions reductions are not fast enough. To nourish hope, Moellendorf therefore turns to two additional types of measures, often subsumed under the category of goingnierie: negative emissions and management of solar radiation. After examining the criticisms, he defends the deployment of a panel of negative emissions techniques, arguing in particular that most of the scenarios of the IPCC to limit global warming below 2°C requires more or less extensive use of this type of measure. Regarding solar goingniery, the author concludes that no objection justifies not investing seriously in research on the injection of aerosols into the stratosphere. According to Moellendorf, the precautionary principle would not apply here and it would rather be a matter of finding a balance between the beneficial effect of cooling the atmosphere and the negative effect of reducing precipitation (p. 165-166).

But doesn’t goingnierie contribute to accelerating the destruction of nature?? For the author, nature free from all human action no longer exists since we entered the Anthropocene (Crutzen and Stoermer 2000), this geological era dominated by human action. What should be avoided is rather the bad Anthropocene, or Misanthropocne, a world of wars and fortified walls where humanity proves incapable of meeting the climate challenge in a peaceful manner (p. 183). In order to combat this hopeless prospect, we need realistic utopias, that is to say, conceptions of the world that are achievable, sustainable and prosperous for all. Moellendorf sketches two of them: on the one hand, Arcadian Anthropocnebased on the ideal of harmony between humans and nature, on the other, Anthropocne promthen, based on international cooperation, technology and socio-economic transformation (p. 187-188). Judging it impossible to end poverty without a certain alteration of nature, he nevertheless rejects the Arcadian utopia. If the intrinsic value of ecosystems justifies an imperative to protect nature, the latter does not prevail, in the event of conflict, over the imperative to fight against poverty.

Courage or optimism?

In this stimulating work, Moellendorf takes seriously the crucial problem of the articulation between the imperatives of combating climate change and combating mass poverty. The main originality of his thinking is the treatment he offers of the concept of climate hope. By recognizing the importance of factors of hope, including facts about the world, social processes, theories, realistic utopias and the actions of others (p. 202), the author avoids the trappings of voluntarist conceptions of hope as courage. However, by affirming that hope is not just an effort of the will, independent of the facts, Moellendorf invites us to question even more scrupulously his socio-economic and technological hypotheses on what is possible or not.

However, we can wonder if he does not sometimes demonstrate unjustified technological optimism, particularly when he assumes that we will be able to decouple economic growth and growth in emissions (p. 141) and in his analysis of goingnierie. For example, he rejects the application of the precautionary principle to the risk of terminal shock posed by the stratospheric injection of aerosols, on the pretext that there are institutional solutions to protect against it (p. 164). On the contrary, for C. McKinnon (2020), we should question the legitimacy of such an intervention by accepting the most pessimistic scenarios and not assume, like Pangloss, that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

As for negative missions, Moellendorf sees them more as a factor of hope than as a moral cause (p. 159). He is right to point out that negative emissions will be necessary to achieve carbon neutrality. However, H. Shue (2021) shows that we must also question the temporality of the implementation of these techniques and the purpose of the hope with which we invest them, pointing out the risk of distraction that carbon capture and sequestration could represent in relation to the urgent and less costly reduction! missions.

Finally, the conceptual analysis of hope would undoubtedly have benefited from a decentering and a targeted study of the particular forms of despair that threaten people who live on the front lines of climate change, such as the inhabitants of small island states or the Arctic, whose cultural identity ms is threatened (Andr 2020). Moreover, it is perhaps by drawing inspiration from non-Western cultures, despite what Moellendorf says (p. 190), that we could develop social utopias independent of economic growth and technical progress.