This is a philosophical problem that bothers me. I don’t have an answer but I’m curious what others think.
Let’s assume that a runaway greenhouse effect caused by man-made carbon emissions presents a credible threat of extinguishing all multi-cellular life on earth. Let’s say someone has incontrovertible evidence of this. We know that consensus political solutions are barely making a dent in the carbon problem. We know it’s possible that there’s no other life in the universe other than Earth, at least none that we’ll ever know about.
Let’s further posit someone has demonstrated a compelling case that some unilateral morally repugnant intervention would avoid this problem. Say it’s a nuclear genocide on the biggest coal-burning population centers in the world, or demolition of all known oil refineries, or just killing the firstborn child out of every family. In the hypothetical, it’s a guaranteed effective, and a guaranteed human calamity, and horrendously socially unjust.
Do we dig in our heels and decide we’ll die out as a just and humane civilization, or do we trade in our civic values and let future generations judge us as the black-hearted criminals that we are?
Right. The question makes no sense. We can’t take collective action on simply limiting carbon emissions, so how are we going to take collective action on genocide?
So of course it can’t be collective action. It has to be one small group of people unilaterally carrying out the proposed action. It won’t be up to us to decide whether to toss babies into wood chippers, it will be certain people going around and grabbing babies and tossing them into wood chippers, and if other people don’t like the baby massacre they shoot them in the face.
So you won’t have a choice, other than to join/support the Einsatzgruppen, stand aside and let them work, or fight them. There will never be a global decision, even if such a thing would be possible. Most people on Earth don’t live in liberal democratic countries anyway, so they’re already not consulted about the decisions the leaders make. Why would we start now? Like, the first real vote that ever happens in China and the issue is “Should we throw babies into woodchippers? If yes, check this box.”
It terms of who its likely to shake out in the real world, it depends on how clear the coming extinction is at the time the decision needs to be made. There are two competing facts of human nature here.
I think history shows that morality is a luxury commodity. That isn’t to down play its importance but just a realization that when there is a choice between morality and survival survival pretty much always comes out on top. You only worry about civilian casualties in a war if you are handily winning it, and you only worry about sustainable agriculture when you aren’t hungry. So if it is immediately clear that survival is at stake morality will go out the window.
On the other hand, immediate concerns always takes precedence over long term eventualities. So taking drastic action to avoid a consequence some years down the road is not the way we humans work, which is while although I fully believe that global warming is happening and that immediate action should be taken to try to stem emissions, realistically I think humanity in the end is going to have more success as a in ameliorating the effects of global warming than we will at preventing it.
In terms of what should be done from an philosophical ethical point of view, my feeling is nuke the baby whales, and turn the old and disabled into soylent green. Having the more high ground doesn’t do any good if there’s no one left to claim it.
I did say ‘unilateral’ in the OP, as in an individual or powerful cabal takes action. Say President Trump’s smartest guys calculate that wiping every major city in China is the only way to preserve life on earth. Or by shooting all the poor people in the streets. If they are correct, are these things morally justifiable when weighed against the possibility of saving possibly the only life forms in the universe?
I’m pretty sure a bunch of male dopers a few years back said it would be justified to imprison and rape surviving women if a cataclysm came and said women weren’t willing to have sex with them/have babies. Is that the same thing?
That would be a sort of comparable problem, except in that case you’re merely saving humanity, whereas I’m talking about saving all life on earth.
I know it’s a poorly formed question. I guess I’m asking people what would YOU decide… do horrendous things to preserve life, or preserve your sense of morality at the cost of letting all life go extinct?
I just fear that the civilized political process of mitigating climate change is so ineffective that I wonder when some extreme party somewhere will start seriously weighing such options. The Maldives are projected to disappear under rising seas in the next situation. They’re researching contingency plans such as moving elsewhere, but likewise one could hardly blame them for uncorking a bioweapon that would take a big chunk out of the Earth’s population.
The problem with these questions is…how do we actually know that the ridiculously over the top intervention WILL actually avoid the problem? How do we know it’s the only way to avoid the problem? Rarely is there only one solution to any issue, and frankly I wouldn’t trust anyone who said there was, especially if it was ‘a guaranteed human calamity, and horrendously socially unjust’ since, to me, that’s obviously agenda driven horseshit.
My WAG is that we check the premise and look for alternatives that aren’t as over the top ridiculous. Assuming we indeed have only one option, and said option means that humanity opts out while giving other species a chance, we go down swinging and the other species have to figure out their own plan B. In the end we are part of evolution, and our own evolutionary drive is propagation of OUR species.
Because it says it right there in the hypothetical. Don’t fight it.
Recent history suggests we can expect continued failure in this arena, since humanity has largely failed to gain consensus on mildly inconvenient strategies to make meaningful reductions in carbon emissions.
I guess we can sit back and hope for a miracle to spring forth from some whiz kid at a TED talk, but realistically it looks like we’re going to blow right past all hopes at avoiding calamity absent the strict control of a global green dictatorship, or a rogue actor doing something truly awful.
Humanity vs. everything else isn’t part of the hypothetical. The trade would be cruelly and unfairly killing half of humanity, as opposed to losing every life form larger than a single cell (which of course includes extinction of humanity).
Of course it’s absurdly naive to assume that humanity can survive the abrupt extinction of much of the ecosystem that produced it. How long do you suppose we could live on Soylent Cockroach?
Probably because people are bad at nebulous threats and they don’t take them seriously. Of course, in the US our CO2 has been dropping for a while now, it’s just been a long steady decline, not a sharp one. And I expect that this will continue to happen as incrementally better and cleaner technologies get introduced and adopted. When we see the eco types embrace nuclear power and push for it’s large scale adoption and we see the public get behind such a push then we might see greater reductions down the road.
So, this isn’t as much about the hypothetical as it is about your predictions concerning global warming. We don’t need a ‘miracle’…technologies such as nuclear power have been around literally for half a century. Replace all of the coal fired power plants in the US and in other countries with nuclear power plants and you will see a huge drop in CO2 (as well as a bunch of other very nasty stuff being put in the air by such plants). That alone will make a very large significant change, even if it were just the US who did it. The only other large change I can think of that would have an equally large, measurable effect would be to switch the diets of billions from meat to veggies. Problem with this one would be an even larger public backlash (I’d be one of those lashing back :p).
I didn’t get that from the OP. At a guess, directly causing the deaths of half of humanity wouldn’t be on the table for anyone, regardless of threat. I could see trying something radical (such as causing nuclear winter or some other method to cut down a few percentage points of sunlight getting to the earth) backfiring and causing such a death toll, but it would be unintentional. Intentionally doing it? I doubt anyone would do that, regardless of the stakes.
Probably not, depending on whether there was enough of a functioning eco system left to sustain any life at all. There are doomsday seed stores that could be used to regenerate crops as well as artificial means to grow them (for some small percentage of the population), but this presupposed that there is air to breathe and nutrients and other things to allow the plants to grow in the first place.
I’m not sure about the exact scenario the OP posits, but I will say that survival trumps morality every time, and toying with the idea of dying out so we can do what’s right is primarily the province of people who are unlikely to ever have to make such a choice.