Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Climate change, Morality and Evil

A few weeks ago there was much excitement in the media about the discovery of wter under the Darfur region of Sudan. Many commentators opined that this would cause a decline in the Darfur genocide since the genocide was Caused" by climate change in the region. As Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic notes, the notion that climate change "caused" the Darfur genocide is fraught with moral danger and philisophical error:

If I were a Janjaweed, and could read as well as rape, I would be quite heartened by reports of the latest brilliant idea about the suffering in Darfur. The idea to which I refer is that the cause of the atrocity is climate change. This grandiose hypothesis has been popularized by Ban Ki-moon, who wrote last month that "[t]here is a very strong link between land degradation, desertification, and conflict in Darfur. Northern Darfur--where exponential population growth and related environmental stress have created the conditions for conflict to be triggered and sustained by political, tribal, and ethnic differences-- can be considered a tragic example of the social breakdown that can result from ecological collapse." I do not doubt that there is some distant truth to this analysis. I am not a close student of ecology or of Africa. But the question of the causality of evil is not only an empirical matter, it is also a philosophical matter; and I do not believe that evil, which is to say, human identity, can be explained entirely by reference to material factors. The secretary-general's view is just another helping of the economicism of our day; and it accords nicely with the greening of the Western mind, for which global warming amounts to a unified field theory of all the world's ills. A few years ago nobody knew about carbon, and now carbon is all anybody knows. Intellectually, this has a certain desertifying effect. For well-fed people are as capable of savagery as ill-fed people, though more people should certainly be fed. The underground lake that has just been discovered in Darfur will not nullify the cultures of the place, which sooner or later, and no doubt with the assistance of Western troops, will have to find reasons for co-existence on their own grounds, consistent with the fact of the self-interpreting character of human life. There is also a practical problem: to defer the ending of a genocide to a rectification of the Earth's climate is to become indifferent to it. There are many types of causes, as the Aristotelian tycoon in the woods will tell you, and not all of them are similarly hospitable to political correction, to the efficiencies of foreign policy. The only thing that will save the wretched of the Sudanese desert is for humans to act directly, not for the Earth to act indirectly. We are not the Earth. We have a reason footprint.

Read it all here.

It seems to me that this is a very good example of the limitations of a materialistic world view. No doubt, cliamte change, drought and hunger played a role in the Darfur genoicide. But this materialistic explanation does not explain enough. In the end, human beings have made evil choices, and that requires more than a materialistic philosophy to explain.

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