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The planner's dilemma

An ethical investigation of adaptation to sea level rise

Time: Fri 2023-06-02 14.00

Location: D37, Lindstedtsvägen 5, Stockholm

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Language: English

Subject area: Philosophy

Doctoral student: Anna Döhlen Wedin , Filosofi

Opponent: Full Professor Behnam Taebi, TU Delft

Supervisor: Docent Karin Edvardsson Björnberg, Filosofi; Dr. Per Wikman-Svahn, Filosofi; Professor Niklas Möller, Stockholms University, Department of Philosophy

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QC 230511


This is a thesis on the ethics of adaptation to sea level rise, with a focus on proactive adaptation planning. The research, which has been conducted within a transdisciplinary research project, takes a bottom-up approach to applied ethics, and has been conducted in close collaboration withadaptation planners and other project partners. The thesis consists of an introductory chapter which includes broader methodological concerns, and an overview of scientific and theoretical issues that are considered as relevant background to the broader research topic, as well as five articles.

Article 1: Departing from an interview study with planners working with adaptation to sea level rise in Sweden, a typology of ethical issuesis presented. It is shown that planners have to deal with input-oriented, process-oriented, and outcome-oriented ethical issues, and that knowledge of these can contribute to ethical adaptation policy.

Article 2: Responsibility of adaptation to sea level rise is often assigned to local planners. But what does it mean to be responsible? Departing from the idea of professional virtues, three codes of ethics for planners are analysed to extract aspirational characteristics for planners. The identified virtues are put in relation to central challenges of adaptation, where five virtues stand out as central to the understanding of what it means to be responsible in adaptation to sea level rise.

Article 3: A method building on Value Sensitive Design (VSD) and scenario planning is developed and applied to address the challenge of integrating ethics when planning for uncertainty over long time-horizons, in the context of adaptation to sea level rise. The method iscalled VSSP and consists of three steps for scenario development and three steps for value investigations. The application resulted in insights on aspects important for an ethical long-term adaptation to sea levelrise.

Article 4: Climate change and adaptation to climate change tend to have disproportionately negative impacts on women. An analysis of what a gender-sensitive adaptation planning needs to address is conducted, and the potential of VSSP as an approach for promoting gender equality in long-term adaptation planning is investigated.

Article 5: The concept of feasibility, as it is used in the climate change context, is discussed. It is found that common uses of the term fail to capture what is meant by feasibility, and that this can have significant consequences for practical deliberation on climate policy. The conditional probability account of feasibility, as discussed in political theory, is suggested as a preferable account for feasibility in the climate change discourse.

In all, the thesis explores a range of ethical topics of relevance in the context of planning for a sustainable adaptation to sea level rise. It bridges practical experiences and concerns with insights from the fields of climate ethics, decision theory, philosophy of technology, and political philosophy, to mention a few. In doing this, the thesis contributes to thegrowing field of ethics of climate change adaptation, with results that can be of interest to both philosophers, planners, and others working with adaptation genrally and adaptation to sea level rise specifically.