On Not Emitting Moral Obligations

The October Public Forum debate topic is “Resolved: Developed countries have a moral obligation to mitigate the effects of climate change.” There is simply an insane amount of neg ground here. This isn’t to say that the affirmative can’t be right (there have been those topics) but rather that I would be surprised if the affirmative won by their skill rather than by negative incompetence. I’ll be covering some neg ground and strategies here; some sample affirmative work is up over at Debate Central.

Negative issue #1: China is both the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and still doesn’t qualify as a Developed nation.

  1. China is not yet considered to be a developed nation. The UN reports (from statistics updated Sept 20, 2011) “In common practice, Japan in Asia, Canada and the United States in northern America, Australia and New Zealand in Oceania, and Europe are considered “developed” regions or areas.” This is despite…
  2. China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases as of 2010. From ClimateWire, Feb 3 2012 (reprinted by Scientific American)

    Ye Qi, a professor of environmental policy at Tsinghua University and director of the Climate Policy Initiative, both in Beijing, said China has made enormous strides over the past five years in both reducing energy intensity and developing renewable energy capacity… But, he said, China’s overall energy use has skyrocketed along with its growth, keeping renewable sources just a sliver of the country’s overall share. Meanwhile, he said, China’s emissions, which were 20 percent higher than the United States’ in 2010, could be as high as 49 percent more by 2015… “There is no question now China is the largest emitter, and the gap between Number 1 and Number 2 is enlarging,” Qi said as part of a Brookings Institution panel discussion on China’s low-carbon development.

    Note that this evidence post-dates the predominantly 2007-8 evidence the aff analysis linked above uses: times have changed.

  3. By actively excluding the largest current contributor of greenhouse gases from the moral obligation of mitigating their effects, the affirmative creates a moral hazard: as long as there is a moral obligation of cleaning up this mess that is separated from the making of the mess, the people making the mess do not suffer moral or material repercussions for their actions, and are thus tacitly encouraged to act amorally because they’re not morally responsible for the deferred costs of environmental damage. Can there be a moral obligation to actively create so obvious of a moral hazard? No, that’s nonsensical, you’re going to vote for the negative.

Negative issue #2: Foisting a moral obligation off on other people while blaming a third party is immoral.

  1. The philosopher Immanuel Kant gives us a boundary on moral action with his first formulation of the Categorical Imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.” And by limiting the moral obligation to “developed nations,” the resolution already fails this test. But the second formulation — “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” — doubles down on this error: the split responsibility means that the developed nations are going to be treated as a means of mitigating the effects of climate change, while all other nations are going to be playing victims of climate change and thus be the means of developed nations keeping their swollen egos and delusions of world-saving grandeur intact. (And this is what a lot of debaters screw up with the Categorical Imperative: it’s great if you choose to live by it, but when you denigrate or blame somebody for choosing some other form of morality, you’re violating your claim that you’re treating them as free moral agents and thus acting immorally by your own adopted system of morality.)
  2. But what does it even mean to be part of a developed nation? Businessweek from Sept 12, 2012 reminds us that we’re sitting at a 15% poverty rate in the United States. Statistically, sampling 4 rounds of Public Forum debate right now, you could find 3 people in poverty. And the affirmative must necessarily claim by association to a developed nation, even the poor have a moral obligation to fight climate change that multinational business tycoons who happen to be Chinese do not. This oddity is the result of a lie, as described by Frederich Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathrustra:

    A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.” It is a lie! Creators were they who created peoples, and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life. Destroyers, are they who lay snares for many, and call it the state: they hang a sword and a hundred cravings over them. Where there is still a people, there the state is not understood, but hated as the evil eye, and as sin against laws and customs.

    Put simply, the nation is not a singular entity and as such cannot feel any particular moral obligation, nor spread that moral obligation to its variety of citizens. (If you doubt our unity, just consider that tens of millions of people think the current president isn’t an American and tens of millions of people think the previous president wasn’t elected.)

  3. Finally, the issue of the United States already being a developed nation means this moral obligation that your affirming of the resolution would foist on us regardless of our socioeconomic status is going through an agency shift before the foisting. Because what you’d be agreeing with isn’t “I’m giving you this moral obligation by their reasoning” but rather “your mom is giving you this moral obligation with her necessarily amoral and morally hazardous behavior.” As Albert Camus said when caught in a similar situation between France and Algeria, “I believe in justice, but I’ll defend my mother before justice.” So not only would affirming the resolution violate the categorical imperative in multiple ways, not only would it base moral culpability on fictional groupings and legal happenstance, but ultimately it sheds its own responsibility for the moral obligation it seeks to affirm off on our ancestors that developed this nation — such as it is and they were — essentially saying that they behaved amorally, engaging in moral hazard and relying on us to pick up their tab. And I know of no system of morality that’s okay with that. (This is especially true of the “Taking Responsibility” article used in the sample aff which claims “Greenhouse gases emitted since the 1750s are already having demonstrably harmful effects on human welfare” — the United States didn’t even exist in the 1750s, which really should highlight the “yo momma” fallacy going on here.)

Negative Issue #3: The most direct route to mitigate the effects of climate change is immoral.

  1. In 2009, Oregon State University found that “Under current conditions in the United States, for instance, each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent -– about 5.7 times the lifetime emissions for which, on average, a person is responsible.” Furthermore, “China and India right now are steadily increasing their carbon emissions and industrial development, and other developing nations may also continue to increase as they seek higher standards of living.”
  2. So clearly if we take this moral obligation really seriously, the correct thing to do would be to implement a eugenics program that sterlizes roughly five out of six people — preferably the people who we don’t want breeding anyway. This will mitigate the effects of climate change not only by cutting down on contributors to climate change, but also substantially reducing the quantity of people who will be effected by climate change: it really is a win/win scenario for dealing with this issue.
  3. Except that it’s also evil because it totally violates the categorical imperative, and human rights, and relies on a dangerous notion that it’s not only okay to “play God” but to “play God to win!” That we could take on a moral obligation to justify wildly immoral behavior is not a sensible or okay thing to do; we should vote against it on this basis alone.
  4. Except that the affirmative will stand up and say that this is public forum and policy isn’t allowed. Which would be fine, except that if we can’t take on an obligation without the means to discharge the obligation which is exactly what a lack of policy is. So if the affirmative stands up and legitimately lays down prior restraint on the immoral discharge of a moral obligation, then their prior restraint necessarily includes all discharge of the obligation such that the obligation is pointless at best, masochism at worst, except that it’s passive-aggressive sadism because you’re foisting it on other people, which is preposterous, so even if you’re somewhat into that sort of thing, your integrity alone will make you vote against their reasoning on the prior restraint and go neg.

So that’s the three continents that the negative can colonize: that splitting the world between post-industrial developed nations and everybody else is wrong, that collective declarations of moral obligations foisted from absent 3rd parties through loose organizations is wrong, and that this particular moral obligation would promptly justify nigh-indefensible immoral behavior.

The one outstanding oddity of the aff work linked at the top was the Anup Shah claim that “many emissions in countries such as India and China are from rich country corporations out-sourcing production to these countries. Products are then exported or sold to the rich. Yet, currently, the ‘blame’ for such emissions are put on the producer not the consumer.” But it is the responsibility of the producer to price their goods accordingly based on all of their costs; their failure to account for environmental costs in their pricing model cannot magically be the fault of the consumer no matter how much the consumer enjoys cut-rate goods. This is just a faulty premise from the get-go, but what it does highlight is that corporations are the fictitious entity doing all of the polluting, not developed nations, ergo there’s no way that developed nations can take on a moral obligation without — again — opening the moral hazard to the polluters, which turns the evidence. We should be closing the moral hazard, not codifying it, vote negative.