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Civil Disobedience, Climate Protests and a Rawlsian Argument for 'Atmospheric' Fairness

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Activities protesting against major polluters who cause climate change may cause damage to private property in the process. This paper investigates the case for a more international general basis of moral justification for such protests. Specific reference is made to the Kingsnorth case, which involved a protest by Greenpeace against coal-powered electricity generation in the UK. An appeal is made to Rawlsian fairness arguments, traditionally employed to support the obligation of citizens to their national governments as opposed to their international duties. The argument made here, however, is that there seem to be sufficient reasons for holding that a stable climate is one of the first truly global public goods that is indispensable to acceptable standards of living everywhere. This would suffice to justify international and intergenerational 'atmospheric' political obligations, which in turn may justify protests - even those causing some damage to private property - against the laws and policies that violate the fair terms of cooperation in providing a stable climate. The fairness argument aims also to provide a ground from which Green political theory could integrate accounts of radical forms of citizenship into appeals to state political authority. This leads to justifying acts of civil disobedience on the basis of novel understandings of 'atmospheric' citizenship obligations.
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Keywords: Rawlsian fairness argument; civil disobedience; climate protests; international and intergenerational justice

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2014-10-01

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  • 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 a Journal Impact Factor (2016) of 1.279.
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