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Climate, Collective Action and Individual Ethical Obligations

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Abstract:

Both Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Baylor Johnson hold that under current circumstances, individuals lack obligations to reduce their personal contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Johnson argues that climate change has the structure of a tragedy of the commons, and that there is no unilateral obligation to reduce emissions in a commons. Against Johnson, I articulate two rationales for an individual obligation to reduce one's greenhouse gas emissions. I first discuss moral integrity, which recommends congruence between one's actions and positions at the personal and political levels. Second, I draw on a Confucian, relational conception of persons to offer a critique of the collective action/tragedy of the commons framework itself. Under the relational conception, commons problems can be reconceptualised so as to dissolve the stark contrast between the individually and the collectively rational. This perspective can inform our approach to climate change and help reconcile individual and political action to mitigate it.

Keywords: Confucius; climate change; collective action; commons; environmental ethics

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3197/096327110X531552

Publication date: 2010-11-01

More about this publication?
  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has an impact factor (2015) of 1.311.
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