Science, Ethics and the Climate Responsibilities of Industrial Carbon Producers

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Peter C Frumhoff, Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, MA, United States
The question of responsibility for climate change lies at the heart of societal debate over actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for now unavoidable climate impacts. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change established the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” among nations, signaling the recognition that industrialized nations who had produced the lion’s share of historic emissions bore particular responsibility for avoiding dangerous interference with the climate system. But climate responsibilities can be distributed in other ways as well. This talk focuses on the scientific, historical and ethical basis for considering the climate responsibilities of the major fossil energy companies that have produced and marketed the coal, oil and natural gas whose use largely drives global warming, often while investing in efforts to discredit the scientific evidence and prevent policies that would encourage a transition to low-carbon energy. Earth scientists and scientific societies who rely on financial support from these companies have an opportunity to consider what ethical stance they might take to align their research, scientific understanding and values.