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Forum on Public Policy Online

Vol 2012 no1

Values||Poverty and Global Security||Environment||Early Childhood||Women's Issues





Ontology and Climate Change
Charles Bonner, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Providence College

This paper outlines an ontological approach to the climate change problematic, suggesting that what is at stake here has to be conceptualized in terms of our fundamental relation to being. The concept of ontology, as employed in this paper, includes the prevailing scientific understanding of “the ultimate nature of reality” as well as the form of computer-mediated knowledge that provides access to this reality. Also included is what the French philosopher Michel Foucault called “an ontology of ourselves”—that is, an assessment or a questioning of the ontological status of human existence within our overall conception of being.
The three texts analyzed from this philosophical perspective are:  a review article summarizing the present state of our knowledge of the global carbon cycle (and emphasizing the limits of such knowledge); a detailed history of the development of mathematical models of global climate, and the computer simulations which provide pictures of global climatological conditions projected decades into the future; and a recent survey of the empirical first indications of climate change as a palpable reality, documenting the onset of sea level rise, melting of permafrost and receding high altitude glaciers. These various approaches to different aspects of the climate change problematic lead to the recognition of the demand for the kind of ontological reflection suggested in the conclusion of the paper.

The Sustainable Economic Growth, Urbanization and Environmental Protection in China
Qi Chen, Professor of Economics, Massachusetts Maritime Academy

For three decades, China has developed tremendously and now it has become the second largest economy in the world next to US.  With fast economic growth, cities in China have been expanding on an unprecedented scale. Though urbanization plays a huge role in stimulating growth, it has imposed serious environmental problems, such as pollution of air, water and solid waste, which have imposed huge challenges to sustainable economic growth.
The paper examines how rapid economic growth has resulted in the vast expansion of urban areas in China, and then in turn urbanization has fueled the economic development. The paper also explains that, though urbanization has become the “engine of development” in China, it has led to severe damages to the environment. While identifying the environmental concerns and positing their negative consequences in China, the paper proposes a series of effective options to tackle the problems, including government policy instruments, lawmaking, regulation enactment, national planning, market forces and environmental awareness of the whole society.

Environmental Sustainability as a Culturally Invariant Value
John H Dreher, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Southern California

Various disciplines, including philosophy, have sought culturally invariant values because they transcend cultural differences and thereby reduce the probability of discord, tension and even war.  Environmental sustainability, especially of the climate, appears to be culturally invariant and necessary for human survival, even apart from its potentially stabilizing social, political and cultural effects.   However, policies that promote sustainability can be expected to involve sacrifices, and as a result it has proved difficult to reach anything like consensus about rational responses to environmental challenges.  
This paper explores epistemological principles that may be helpful in justifying, promoting and implementing public policies that justify local sacrifices for the global good of a sustainable, healthy environment.   The principal contribution this paper hopes to make is to explain why it is that assigning unreasonably high prior probability measures to mere suppositions about the environment tends to undermine constructive discussion about sustainability, especially in the popular media.

The Impact of Global Warming on North Carolina
Godfrey A. Uzochukwu, Professor, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

This paper focused on the impact of global warming on North Carolina. There is a global consensus among scientists that humans are contributing to the increasing emission of greenhouse gases that pose a threat to land, humans and vegetation. The greenhouse gases are in the form of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides which are produced by burning of fossil fuels. The State of North Carolina has taken positive steps to address global warming by establishing the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change (LCGCC), Climate Action Plan Advisory Group (CAPAG) and University Task Forces on Global Warming. The findings of the LCGCC include:

  • Climate change is real
  • Human activity is a factor in that change
  • Commission should move forward to address the issues faced by the State

The following actions were recommended by the University task force on global warming as part of the University of North Carolina system’s effort to examine global warming:

  • Improve research and education on global warming
  • Develop a plan to reduce carbon footprint
  • Develop a comprehensive plan to protect coastal areas in North Carolina

The local effect of global warming reported in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA was an adverse effect of drought on Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens). Greensboro has experienced moderate to severe drought conditions in the past ten years. As a result, different kinds of plant species have been adversely impacted. Other effects of rising temperatures include but not limited to heat waves during the summer months which impact air quality. An increase in the number of asthma patients among children and adults has been reported. Increased health ailments due to global warming may lead to increased healthcare costs. Average summer temperatures in Charlotte, North Carolina could increase up to levels felt in Miami, Florida. Mosquito populations may increase because of warmer and wetter conditions. Warmer conditions in North Carolina may also increase the frequency algal blooms along the coast, damaging fish populations with adverse impacts both on human health and on local economies. It has been reported that winter-hardiness planting zones are changing in North Carolina. Gardeners have reported that rare palms, gingers and other brushes are thriving in the winter season. Sea levels are predicted to rise 0.9 meter per century, which could cause North Carolina to lose thirty to forty percent of its Coastal Plain leading to significant loss of land. Short-term trends indicate warming along the coast of North Carolina. The density of climate observations needed to be improved in order to trust observed trends.

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