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The Intangibles of Climate Change Adaptation: Philosophy, Ethics, and Values


Climate change has a significant negative impact on both current and future generations, and there are good normative arguments to limit these effects (Gardiner et al. 2010). Standard climate change discourse distinguishes between two strategies, namely, mitigation and adaptation (UNFCC 1992). Mitigation is about reducing the anthropogenic or human causes of climate change, and adaptation concerns adjustments to the consequences for ecosystems and human societies. Adaptation, however, is a complex concept, and there are important relationships between adaptation and mitigation (Klein et al. 2007; Simonet 2010). Currently adaptation debates are primarily about the potentials of and limits to physical adaptation and sociopolitical or cultural adaptations (e.g., Adger et al. 2009). In this chapter, we go beyond this debate and investigate some fundamental issues that have received less attention so far. Looking through a philosophical lens, we present an overview of different perspectives that make adaptation a particularly challenging concept. We proceed in three steps, descending from abstract toward more practically oriented reflections. First, we look at climate change from a broad perspective, investigating epistemological issues (the nature of knowledge) and ontological issues (the nature of the world and of humanity) to understand some of the fundamental dimensions of climate change. Second, we examine important ethical issues and the implications for justice. Here we aim to show that climate change has increased human responsibilities, which then have moral implications. Finally, we discuss the more practical question of moral motivation and value change, as it is one thing to say that values should change and another to actually make these changes. Epistemology, Ontology, and Meta-Ethics Epistemology deals with the issue of what we can know and how we can know this. If, following Wittgenstein, one subscribes to the view that what is thinkable is also what is expressible, then adapting to the idea of climate change is a precondition of any other adaptation. In other words, if human beings ultimately “are suspended in language … to communicate experience and ideas to others,” as Niels Bohr once put it (cf. Petersen 1985, 301), we will no longer be able to grasp and understand the reality around us (and consequently to act on that understanding) unless we adapt our concepts and language. Without the idea of climate change, there can be neither a debate about it nor any adaptation.
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hal-02639213 , version 1 (28-05-2020)



Guillaume Bertrand, Stijn Neuteleers, Karen Obrien, Elin Selboe. The Intangibles of Climate Change Adaptation: Philosophy, Ethics, and Values. K. O'Brien & E. Selboe. The Adaptive Challenge of Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, pp.24-40, 2015, ⟨10.1017/CBO9781139149389.003⟩. ⟨hal-02639213⟩
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