Hobbes vs. Rousseau: The State of Nature


Philosopher Thomas Hobbes had a pessimistic view of mankind; he argued that humans are naturally self-centered. On the other hand, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau takes a more opportunistic approach and argues that humans are innately good and it is civilization that is destructive. What does this have to do with climate change? Hobbes would say that the greedy nature of mankind drives us to deplete our natural resources. Whereas Rousseau would say that capitalism is the root of evil! So which philosopher should we take after? Will changing the greedy systems within society put an end to global warming or will other issues arise? Or do we change humankind to be less self-centered?

Climate change has a global effect regardless of which countries are contributing or emit the most greenhouse gases. Historically, changes in the environment were not of a geopolitical concern until changes in the natural weather patterns were discovered. Since then, climate change has been a topic of international politics. The consequences of climate change are going to affect each region of the world differently. When these issues arise there becomes a more important question of who takes responsibility, who pays for action, and who bears the cost all without furthering inequalities between nations. Climate change has the ability to widen the inequality gap between nations, especially developing nations who are the most susceptible to the adverse effects of global warming. Action on climate change has mostly been focused on the industrialized world, for example the UNFCCC states developed countries should take initiative towards climate change, but should developing countries be allowed to continue to emit greenhouse gases in order to gain a higher socioeconomic status?

As a globe, we share the environment therefore there should be a global effort at cooperation. There are different approaches to international regime such as realism, liberalism, and constructivism. Realism is driven by self-interest and power, comparably a Thomas Hobbes perspective. According to Dr. Russell Bova, “For realists, the expectation that global environmental crisis will lead to cooperative responses is both naïve and contrary to the record of human history.” (Bova 249-250) The liberalist approach involved a more mutual understanding of sharing the costs and interests, advocated by Rousseau. Constructivism is a knowledge-based approach that analyzes climate change at a social level. If we take the liberalist approach then we must question societal structures that create this constant competition for power and wealth. In a world without forces of competition we could reduce our emissions and potentially live in a better world. In order to fight against climate change, we, as a global community, must take a more selfless approach and start making sacrifices because we are in this  together. Dealing with global climate change is essentially a problem of cooperation and solving issues of interest and power. We must all be allies and prevent global warming from turning into world war III.      iStock_000019699158XSmall

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