Ecological damage and redistributive suffering


By Father Bud Grant

Fr. Bud Grant

Recently, Jim Young Kim, head of the World Bank, issued this stunning warning about a projected increase in the world temperature of 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degree Celsius):
If we don’t meet our emission targets, a 7.2 degree Fahr­enheit world could ha­ppen as early as 2060. That means that when my 3-year-old is my age, he’ll be living in this world where the coral reefs would have all been gone. The extreme heat wave that we saw in Russia in 2010 that killed 55,000 people would happen every summer.
As I write, the international climate change meeting is finishing up in Doha, Qatar. The debate has come down to how much the rich nations should compensate poorer nations for the cost of ecological damage. Kyoto (Japan) offered $10 billion; the poorer nations want $100 billion. To put this in context, President Obama is asking Congress for $60 billion to help recover from “Sandy.” (Get this: Americans spent $2 billion on Halloween candy this year). It is reasonable to ask why we should pay the poorer nations anything.
It is not just charity or a pragmatic strategy motivated by national security, but a matter of justice. The world’s wealthy cause most of the ecological crises while suffering the least from them. The standard of living enjoyed by the richest is paid for with ecological degradation by the poorest. This should trigger the environmental ethical principle I call redistributive suffering: those more responsible should shoulder more of the suffering than those who are least so.

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