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Future Ethics: An Introduction
As the international community awakens belatedly to a consensus over anthropogenic climate change, an ethical uncertainty hangs over our deliberations.  For increasingly the election-winning rhetoric of emissions reduction targets or renewables schemes are over-shadowed by the suspicion of too little, too late.  But too late for what and for whom?  To save humans from destruction?  To preserve a certain quality of life for the few?  To mitigate against the worst effects of global warming for the planet as a whole? 

These are some of the questions that inform this workshop series, Future Ethics.  We want to explore what impact this element of timescale (what it means to be 'too late', for example) has on the understanding of, and motivation for, taking action.  For whether we understand this by behavioural change, direct action or political campaigning, the element of timescale and orientation to the future is fundamental.  It requires that we understand how knowledge (however certain) of the future becomes the basis for action in the present.  Or, in other words, how our lives today are guided by our hopes/fears of tomorrow. 

Approaching the Tipping Point
To illustrate this point about timescales, consider the rhetoric of 'tipping points' creeping into social discourse.  Scientists, policymakers and journalists today refer increasingly to thresholds, such as a critical global temperature, which propel the earth system into a radically altered state.  To put it simply, tipping points refer to small changes that have a big impact.  Such 'points' thus become constitutive of policy decisions, scientific predicition, and ethical responsibility.  And whilst interpretations vary, there is increasing concern today about the relationship between tipping points and irreversible global warming trends, or 'points of no return'.  Thus, whilst our focus for these workshops may be on looking for answers to such ethical problems as: human responsibility to future generations; placing values on non-human nature; maintaining justice in a world adapting to energy crises, we aim to do so within this new context of a society that considers its time to be 'running out'. 

What is the cultural and philosophical significance of the belief that time may be running out?  And how do people respond politically?  It is uncertain whether an increase in the reporting of tipping points over the next few years will encourage resistance to the causes of climate change or defeatism and political fatalism.  But this uncertainty gives us all the more reason to explore the variety of beliefs, strategies, and tools with which people believe they can confront climate change.  And this can only happen by interacting with a range of social actors, theorists and individuals. 

Future Ethics is, in sum, concerned with the interaction of two forms of tipping point: 1) those of the climate (accelerated melting of Arctic sea ice, for example) and 2) those of political consciousness (moments when social change steps up a gear or takes a new direction).  The workshops are an invitation to people concerned with these issues to contribute understanding, experience, and creative suggestions for how societies can and should approach shared, planetary tipping points. 

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