Every time I attend and environmental rally it simultaneously fills me with mixed feelings of hope (it’s always edifying to see others supporting what you support, regardless of the nature of the cause) and existential dread. Dread because dwelling on climate change and listening to speeches about it is ultimately horrifying. It reminds one of one’s mortality, and as a member of a nation of over-consumers and polluters, one’s own part in perpetuating the struggles, maltreatment and deaths of those affected by consumption and climate change.

I’ve spent more than one night awake wondering about the future of the planet – it’s even driven me to write science fiction recently – but it’s a very good thing to be affected by and think on deeply.

One of the things that plagues me is how to know what is right or ethical action? Obviously there are so many answers to this, each with its own usefulness, but one of the most important I think I’ve stumbled upon during my time studying political philosophy comes from Emmanuel Kant.
"Act only on that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it become a universal law." 

By which (in my extrapolation) he means don’t do something unless you’d will it to be replicated universally by everyone. I take this to be a mediation between individual and social compulsions. I might be individually compelled to use the earth’s resources carelessly because it is less hassle to me than to be frugal with them. However I could not will that this would be a universal behaviour because it would result in there being no resources left to use and very probably no me left to use them. You can see already how different this reasoning is to an economic one which justified my excessive use of resources through ‘supply/demand’ reasoning or because it might create jobs.

To me it seems Kant’s argument extends to reasonableness. I can judge (to some extent, not particularly well or easily in the example I’ve used however because of all the variables) what is a reasonable action for myself by judging what actions I could will become a universal law. So a reasonable level of my use of earth’s resources is the level at which if my usage levels should become universal, would be sustainable and not damaging to life on earth. This is a nice little cycle back around to that philosopher whose work has its echoes in every philosopher’s since – Aristotle.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics talks a lot about virtue. To have it, he says, one must have not only the will to do good (compassion), but be able to correctly use reasoning to find the path to the right end (the one which allows human flourishing – Eudaimonia) within the particular given circumstances. Kant’s thinking I believe helps us with this reasoning.

Ethics and philosophy rarely come into question at large International Environmental Policy/ Law gatherings like Paris 2015, but it should. It is difficulty and head-hurty to think about sometimes but also invigorating, and truly if we are incapable of being critical of our drives and of how as humans we do and ought to make decisions, then we are really very unsophisticated little robots indeed.

Here are a few resources to make things less head-hurty.
Sparknotes on Nicomachean Ethics book ii 
Kant: The Moral Order on Philosophy Pages