Who Should Bear the Costs of Climate Change?
Anthropogenic climate change is occurring. The science overwhelmingly confirms it, and scholars of climate justice (like Caney, Bell, Vanderheiden, Shue, etc.) treat this as starting assumption. These scholars vary in the cosmopolitan accounts of justice they endorse (e.g., rights-based theories v. distributive theories) and, thus, they disagree about what specific obligations of justice we have to those beyond our national borders, but they all agree that climate change poses difficult moral problems that need to be addressed. Who is causally and morally responsible for the effects we now see of global warming: rising sea levels and the salinization of freshwater sources or the displacement of island peoples; severe weather events (e.g., droughts, heat waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.) and natural disasters (e.g., floods, forest fires, etc.) and the damage to private property and economic losses to agricultural industries; heightened public health threats from vector borne diseases (e.g., Zika virus), and so forth? Who bears the costs of these effects: that is, how are these costs distributed? Who should bear the costs? What will the lasting effect be to future generations: are these consequences morally problematic? What vulnerable groups are at higher risk of being harmed, and what would a just distribution of the costs of climate change look like? These are some of the diverse broad questions that scholars of climate justice explore.
In thinking about the limitations of the “polluter pays principle” (e.g., establishing causal responsibility), about the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility,” and about the problems of absolving emitters who were ignorant of the effects of their greenhouse gas emissions of their liability to bear the costs of their (historic) emissions—ideas that Caney (2006) and Bell (2011) discuss at length—how do you believe the effects of climate change should be distributed: which is to say, who should bear the costs, and why? In answering this question, you must make your starting assumptions clear by briefly explaining the specific conventional or cosmopolitan account of justice you base your argument on (this will require you to draw on previous course material), and you must also discuss one real-world example that illustrates the conclusion you defend.
PLEASE NOTE: with these sorts of normative questions that we’ll be engaging throughout the semester, where there is no clear right or wrong answer, you must do more than merely state your opinion. This would fundamentally fail to satisfy the expectations of these thesis-driven and evidence-based writing assignments. Your task is to take a stand on the issue and to defend this position by writing an educated and informed response, incorporating specific ideas from the readings that support your thesis.