A GLOBAL CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
My three key ideas offer only the seeds from which one version of climate ethics might grow, for the purposes of illustration. Robust theories remain far away. In the meantime, we must do what we can in the ethics of the transition, including making suggestions about where to go in the absence of such theories. I have argued that there is enough ethical convergence to provide guidelines for “rough justice” moving forward, at least in the initial steps. Importantly, current behavior, especially among the affluent in the richer countries, is so far from meeting any reasonable ethical standards that we cannot plausibly complain that the theoretical storm is our most serious problem right now.
I close with one further, quasi-pragmatic suggestion. In my view, our biggest problem involves an institutional gap, especially when it comes to intergenerational concern. The most obvious move is to close that gap. Elsewhere, I argue that the natural strategy involves calling for a global constitutional convention (akin to the US constitutional convention of 1787) focused on future generations, with a mandate to confront the ethics of the transition head on, in a way that makes the issues visible to all.45
Such a proposal directly confronts the short-termism and narrow economic focus of current, and especially national, institutions. Consequently, it will seem profoundly “infeasible” to some. Still I believe that some such confrontation is unavoidable. Twenty-five years of political horse trading between conventional institutions shows no sign of protecting future people, or the planet more generally. If we are to avoid climate extortion, we need a more ambitious vision of “what works.”
Moreover, the convention proposal remains comparatively modest in light of the alternatives. At its heart, the idea is simply that the world’s peoples must discuss the current impasse at a level that takes seriously the problem we face. In addition, we should not be overly pessimistic. A constitutional convention may be something that not just global publics, but also leaders of current institutions—knowing the institutional limitations better than most—can bring themselves to support. If we have genuine intergenerational concern, the current situation should bother us all deeply. Moreover, the call for a global constitutional convention aimed at protecting the future reflects a noble ambition. If our generation can fix the current institutional gap, we can prepare humanity for the future in a way that makes us not just “green,” but genuinely great. Isn’t it worth a try?