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Center for Ethics director gives talk on climate change

As long-term trends show the average global temperature warming up, Dane Scott said he wants to provide helpful ways for people to think about the ethical aspects of climate change.

Scott, who is the director of the University of Montana-Missoula's Center for Ethics, delivered the fifth annual Don and Gladys McDonald Philosophy Lecture Wednesday night at Bemidji State University. His talk was titled "The Perfect Problem: The Legacy of Climate Change."

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Scott referred to a book, "Americans in Climate Change: Closing the Gap Between Science and Action" by Daniel R. Abbasi, as his starting point for the topic. Scott said the idea is that a gap exists between what the majority of scientists have agreed upon scientifically about climate change and the societal and political response to it.

Scott said climate change is the perfect problem because it's difficult to comprehend. He said the issue is hard to understand for several reasons, including the difficult scientific information it involves and the global scope of the problem.

"It's a global issue," said Scott, who is also an associate professor of environmental studies. "The world has to work together in some way."

He said the degree of global cooperation needed to address the issue is unprecedented.

Scott said climate change is also difficult to comprehend because it's been perceived as a partisan issue. Another reason, he said, is that society is built around the combustion of fossil fuels.

"There's a confluence of things that makes it difficult to understand," Scott said.

While there has been much discussion on the scientific and economic aspects of climate change, Scott said there has been less discussion on the ethical aspects of it.

He said his goal of his talk Wednesday night was to provide very simple, useful, ethical concepts to put climate change into a framework so people can understand its ethical dimensions.

"The consequences of climate change are really kind of far from us," Scott said.

He said, for example, future generations will experience more severe consequences than today's generations if no action is taken currently to slow climate change. He said another example is that developing countries, in many cases, lack the political, economic and health-care structures to adapt to climate change.

But not all consequences are distant, Scott said. In Montana, he said, glaciers are disappearing and the fire season is growing.

Scott, who is the chairman of a committee that is exploring the possibility of establishing an interdisciplinary climate change studies program at the University of Montana-Missoula, said he became interested in climate change because of his involvement in agricultural ethics.

"Climate change really poses a new challenge for world agriculture," Scott said.

He said he is also interested in the ethical issues that arise from new technologies "as we try to provide solutions to the challenges of climate change."