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Cool Talk About a Hot Topic: A Preview of This Week’s Events on the Ethics of Communicating about Climate Change

By Daniel Welsh
9 Apr 2013

The Prindle Institute for Ethics is a proud and excited host of “Cool Talk about a Hot Topic:
The Ethics of Communicating about Climate Change,” a three-day symposium from Tuesday
to Thursday of this week that will “explore how scientific climate change findings are reaching
the public, how policy uncertainties are driven by the changes in mass and elite perceptions
of climate problems, and most of all, the ethical question of how we should try to talk to one
another about this urgent, but arguably overlooked and misunderstood, issue for our time.”

Kicking off the symposium this afternoon, Anthony Leiserowitz will present his opening
keynote, “Climate Change in the American Mind,” at 4:15 PM in Watson Forum. “Cool
Talk about a Hot Topic” brings together notable research scientists, lecturers, philosophers,
sociologists, geoscientists, political scientists, and feminist philosophers to address pressing
social, political, cultural, psychological, and economic issues embedded in the current
global climate crisis – along with key questions of governance, power, authority, and moral
responsibility – which, as our honored guests all concur in their research, is not only indisputably
real and anthropogenic in nature, but perhaps the most urgent and telling challenge of our time.

As Stephen Gardiner, philosopher and Wednesday’s afternoon speaker (with his talk, “Jane
Austen vs. Climate Economics,” at 4:15 PM in Watson Forum), argues in his 2012 article, “Are
We the Scum of the Earth? Climate Change, Geoengineering, and Humanity’s Challenge,” the
question of “who are we?” is central to this longitudinal and multidimensional problem. He

“If we ask what kind of person (or community, nation, or
generation) would impose risks of severe climate harms on others
under our current epistemic circumstances, we cast the issue in
a new, and starkly unflattering, light” (245).

Climate change is thus a critical ethical dilemma as much as it as a real harbinger and source of
negative physical consequences.

If ethics be the study of moral principles and the various degrees of agency of individuals and/
or groups that require or excuse the enactment of said principles in their daily lives, where
do we begin when it comes to communicating about climate change? In her 2003 article,
“Getting Closer: On the Ethics of Knowledge Production,” Chris Cuomo, feminist philosopher
and Thursday’s closing keynote speaker (with her talk, “Consciousness and Moral Action:
Considering Climate Change,” at 7:30 PM in the Prindle Auditorium), stresses the importance of
interdisciplinary research that can provide a more holistic frame for peeling back the many layers
of the massive, complex problem. She asserts:

“The project of getting closer involves attempts to bridge
knowledge and action by bringing thinkers, knowers, and actors
closer to the worlds affected by our actions and inaction”

In a sense, then, we aren’t planning for the future as much as we are planning for now, as the
current world we live in becomes further transmuted by rising global average temperatures and
carbon emissions. The answers won’t simply fall in our laps, so join the conversation this week
as we explore these and other questions, as well as possible solutions and alternative actions!


Dan was an intern for the 2012-2013 academic year.
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