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Climate Change and Individual Responsibility: A Reply to Johnson

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Abstract:

Can unilateral action be an effective response to global climate change? Baylor Johnson worries that a focus on unilateral action by individuals will detract from efforts to secure collective agreements to address the problem. Although Johnson and I agree that individuals have some obligation to reduce their personal emissions, we differ in the degree to which we see personal reductions as effective in spurring broader change. I argue that 'unilateral reductions' can have communicative value and that they can change the structure of collective action problems, making such problems easier to solve. Since collective action problems are much less tractable where individuals abide by the tenets of traditional game theory and much more tractable where individuals are oriented to cooperate and to trust that others will reciprocate, we need moral norms that promote individual restraint in exploitation of the commons, and we ought ourselves to abide by those norms.

Keywords: climate change; collective action; moral obligation; tragedy of the commons; unilateral action

Document Type: Discussion

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3197/096327111X12997574391643

Publication date: 2011-05-01

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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