Philosophy of Globalization: Climate Change

climate change - image by

Discuss homework answers.

Today we look at some of the ethical issues in the philosophy of climate change.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released Third Assessment in 2001 and Fourth Assessment in 2007. Fifth is due soon. Found that most of the global warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. Earth would likely have cooled during this period.

“All of this forces us to think differently about our ethics. Our value system evolved in circumstances in which the atmosphere, like the oceans, seemed an unlimited resource, and responsibilities and harms were generally clear and well defined. If someone hit someone else, it was clear who had done what. Now the twin problems of the ozone hole and of climate change have revealed bizarre new ways of killing people. By spraying deodorant at your armpit in your New York apartment, you could, if you use an aerosol spray propelled by CFCs, be contributing to cancer deaths, many years later, of people living in Punta Arenas, Chile. By driving your car, you could be releasing carbon dioxide that is part of causal chain leading to lethal floods in Bangladesh. How can we adjust our ethics to take account of this new situation?” – Singer, One World.

One potential answer has been lawsuits between countries. But this seems problematic.

Activity: Tragedy of the Commons via


This game introduces the concept of The Tragedy of the Commons by allowing students to take part in a game in which the interest of each student is different from the collective interest of the group.

In 1968, Garrett Hardin coined a term or concept called the Tragedy of the Commons. The tragedy is the notion that any resource that is open to everyone (such as the air or parts of the ocean) will eventually be destroyed because the best interest of each individual is to utilize the resource fully. Thus, each individual acts for his/her own individual interest, even if that means that the resource is eventually depleted for the society as a whole.

The Game

Set-up the room so that groups of students can sit around tables. The number of students can vary from 4 to about 15, depending on the needs of your group. In the middle of the table put 4 ‘fish’ per student. Goldfish crackers or small candies work well as fish. For each student, provide chopsticks or some other fishing apparatus (could be a fork – just something to make it a little more difficult to pick up the fish, so that students can only pick up one fish at a time).

Tell the students that they each represent the head of a family. In order for the family to survive (not starve), each must catch enough fish for them to eat. During the ‘season’ all students may fish and each may take as many fish as they wish. One fish is needed to avoid starvation and 2 fish are needed to maintain the family/ livelihood comfortably for the year. Any fish above the first 2 can be sold for profit. (You can modify these numbers as you wish – this is just a guide). *Can trade 2 fish for a piece of candy.

The fish will reproduce once a year after the fishing season (one additional fish for each fish left on the table). Have students keep the fish that they catch in front of them. Start with a ‘season’ of 30 seconds, which is plenty of time for each student to take as many fish as they want. Tell students that they are not allowed to talk or communicate at any time during the game.

At the end of each year, go around to each table and add more fish to the lake when they reproduce. They simply double each year. If any family has starved then they obviously cannot fish the next year. Have the students fish for several years, until either the fish are depleted (likely result) or they reach some kind of equilibrium. I have included the data sheet from the website at the end of these instructions, but for college students filling it in is really optional (they get the idea without writing it down).

If the fish become exhausted (which is what you want for the first game) give the students 2 minutes to talk among themselves and try to work out a system to manage the fish. Then start the game again with the original number (4 fish per student), stressing that they are not allowed to talk during the season. Make it clear that no student is allowed to physically stop any other student from taking fish, and that they can each take as many as they are able in the 30 second season. (You can also extend the season to 60 seconds, which raises the incentive to cheat, as students sit around looking at all those fish). Some groups of students may work out a system where they maintain the population at equilibrium. If there are one or two students who are inclined to cheat, the group may not be able to achieve this, illustrating the difficulty of enforcing regulations in a commons.

Tragedy of the Commons Discussion Questions

1.       Did anyone in your group take too many fish?  How did that make you feel?  Did everyone try to take as many as possible?  Why or Why not?  Does society reward those with the “most”?

2.       Did anyone sacrifice the # of fish, for the good of the community?  Why or why not?  Does society ever reward that type of person?

3.       In Game two… how did your strategy change, if at all?  Does it make a difference to know what the rewards are?

4.   Is it possible to maximize the number of fish caught/person AND the number of fish remaining in the pond at the same time? Why or Why not?

5.   Think of a local commons that you are familiar with. [parking lots, dorm social rooms, bathrooms, bookstalls, etc.] Do similar situations arise? Explain. HOW might those problems be solved?

6.   What are some natural resources that are common resources?

7.       What are the global commons?  Are these being used wisely?  Why or why not?

8.   What can people do to use these resources most wisely?

Atmosphere is like a giant common sink that we can put our waste into. There won’t be noticeable consequences until it reaches a certain capacity.

Watch “Packaging is Rubbish”:

Discuss Kyoto Agreement and what it is doing / has done.

Look at innovative solutions that are being worked on:

Personal carbon markets


Homework: In journal: What are some examples of compassionate acts? What actions may seem at first to be compassionate but turn out to have selfish motives behind them?

You may also like: