Like in all science a moral reason to do something is not a sufficient reason (assuming the absence of universal morals). I want to dismiss any moral argument from global warming when working with the science of the situation.
Void of any moral obligation to be concerned about human accelerated global warming what reasons are there to choose to care about global warming?
One such reason is the possibility of a mass extinction and the subsequent loss of species diversity.
A relatively sudden (geologically speaking) shift in climate can cause severe species extinctions. Due to the lack of time needed to overcome new challenges evolutionarily for many species. This can be especially true for very specialised species who may lack the capacity to compete for resources outside of their niche if it becomes no longer available.
However, more generalist species may thrive in changing conditions. And some specialist species may even develop more generalist strategies in response to change (Colles, Liow & Prinzing 2009). So even though a lot of species would be affected if climate change trends continue, not all would necessarily be negatively impacted.
Regardless overall diversity would be impacted upon. Why is this important? It is not innately important by its own right, only in the value we give it. Diversity is important evolutionarily because it gives life multiple ways to overcome the challenges of existence. The lower the diversity the more chance life has of running into a dead end.
That said diversity has been severely impacted upon several times in Earth’s history and has managed to persist and probably will continue to for quite some time regardless of global warming.
One argument for maintaining diversity is that many species can have adaptions that may prove useful to human society (Shah 2014). By actively lessening diversity we limit this potential.
This may be argued as being a somewhat selfish reason to concern ourselves with diversity but realistically it is no more selfish than keeping diversity around because we value life, or because we believe the natural world should be ordered in the way that we understand it contemporarily.
This is trap for many to think that the natural world can only be ordered in the way it exists as we see it today. A notion that leads to preservationist attitudes. But the world has only been ordered thusly over such a brief second of life history on this planet.
More progressive thought may lead to conservationist attitudes. In which change is respected, but human interference is controlled. And this is the popular angle we see the platform of global warming support springing from.
The problem I have with this is that it still envisions the world as a separation between nature and humans. It fails to address that humans are not in nature but are in fact a part of it. And like many species we both adapt and adapt to our environment.
But here we come back to our unique problem of being aware of what consequences our actions may have. Whether we support diversity out of respect for life, or for the benefits it may produce anthropocentrically. Either way it is a choice rather than an obligation because it is still based on a value judgement of what is important to our own agenda.
Diversity matters only as much as the value we give it. It has no universal value of its own.
Colles, A, Liow, LH, Prinzing, A 2009, ‘Are specialists at risk under environmental change? Neoecological, paleoecological and phylogenetic approaches’, Ecology Letters, vol. 12, no. 8, pp. 849-63.
Go Green Agriculture 2015, Genetic resources in agriculture, retrieved 1 May 2016, <http://prt2008g2.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/chapter-4-genetic-resources-in.html>.
Openstax College, Conservation and biodiversity, Lumen Learning, retrieved 30 March 2016, <http://courses.lumenlearning.net/biology/chapter/chapter-21-conservation-and-biodiversity/ >.
Shah, A 2014, Why is biodiversity important? Who cares?, Global Issues, retrieved 1 May 2016, <http://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares>.