As climate change alters the environment, people’s associations with and appreciations of the environment change too. Environmental aesthetics, an area of knowledge informed by philosophy and ethics, offers an important vantage point on human wellbeing in the age of climate change. Contributors to the literature have attempted to imagine how changing environmental conditions might change aesthetic encounters with nature. Some have contemplated the prospect of aesthetic enjoyment becoming tainted by knowledge of the societal forces and human folly that have damaged nature. One strain of argument rests on the view that aesthetic value in nature is an inherent property of the natural entity itself, and thus independent of moral considerations and other interests, which are viewed as external. The irrelevance of moral consideration to estimations of aesthetic value is the crux of the “autonomist” understanding of environmental aesthetics. From this perspective, condemnation of peoples’ enjoyment of climate-altered nature is beside the point, since moral concerns have no bearing on the intrinsic, aesthetic qualities of the observed entity. This paper argues that the autonomist perspective is challenged in a world of increasingly pervasive and negative encounters with climate-altered nature. Expectations for more frequent, widespread, and severe impacts from climate change suggest a rethinking of salient questions bearing on aesthetic experience. This article raises the prospect of pleasurable aesthetic experiences becoming increasingly rare in a climate-changed world and the prospect of moral pressures becoming more immediate and personal. Also challenged is the thesis that people will ably adjust to climate change and thereby secure aesthetic comfort.
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