How does climate philosophy differ from environmental and climate ethics? Part of the answer is in the name: it isn't ethics. It is philosophy. Questions of natural rights and human wrongs are important but not central. Answers regarding equitable solutions, fair distributions, or resolutions of conflicts of interest, in a way, miss the point. This is not to say that climate- or environmental ethics are on the wrong track; far from it. Instead, what the title of climate philosophy suggests is a division of labor. On the one hand, the ecocrisis and climate change have a clear and distinct normative dimension. The study of this dimension is the job of environmental ethics (for the ecocrisis) and climate ethics (for global warming). On the other hand, the crisis and the change have now gained an existential dimension. This is where climate philosophy comes in.
Compare this to the normative dimension of the ecocrisis. There are strong reasons for conceding some basic prima facie rights to all forms of life, especially animals. These reasons involve logic, facts, and common sense. Constructive interactions presuppose, prima facie, the rules that one should not impose misery on whoever can suffer, and that one should not thwart others in their self-realization. In the sense that these reasons are compelling, destructive phenomena such as biodiversity loss always carry a normative dimension. But in the sense that these reasons are empirically expressed (published, debated), a normative dimension emerges over time. In the writings of early naturalists on degradation, an aesthetic dimension was in the foreground.
So: aesthetics first, normativity next, and existence now. Unlike the normative dimension, which grew over time in terms of the empirical expression of critical reflection, the existential dimension grows over time in terms of the material transformation of the events themselves. First the crisis was small, next it deepened. First the change was slow, next it picked up speed. These shifts are ushering in a qualitative change. As the crisis deepens, it becomes a crisis for civilization as well as for the environment. And as climate change accelerates, it not only affects the seasonal timing of plants and the migration of species and biomes, but also food security, economic stability, and national prospects. This qualitative change turns aesthetic and moral issues into existential problems. Of course, we need new legislation to address the crisis and mitigate the change. But we also must reload culture from consumerism to sustainability. That this needs to be done is trivial. Not trivial is the question of how this can be done. Can it be done in the conventional and current socio-economic paradigm?
Climate ethics addresses the normative dimension without problematizing the socio-economic context. The ethical literature buys into the conventional premise of classical liberalism. Climate philosophy, by contrast, addresses the very context that climate ethics leaves unchallenged. Considering the deepening conflict between global capitalism and the Earth system, and considering the observed inefficacy of market tools to mitigate the crisis, it appears doubtful, at least at present, whether the market will be capable of hoisting civilization on a sustainable level. Climate philosophy involves accordingly the contention that a sustainable civilization can hardly be a capitalistic civilization; that a sustainable transformation will require, at least in part, a planned economy. This, then, is the 'revolutionary' premise in its technical or ideological sense. Nonetheless, at this point, the endeavor appears still rather narrowly focused on a critique of the political economy. If one addressed the normative dimension while problematizing the socio-economic context, then some sort of neo-Marxist climate ethics would perhaps be generated. But then it would still be ethics, and not yet philosophy.
Why philosophy then?