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.
7 responses to “Prompt 4 (3020: Global Justice 2016)”
We are all Environmental Stakeholders
Everyone should share in the expense of climate mitigation. Taking on Cosmopolitan perspective, the damage inflicted by one nation impacts multiple others. Earth is comprised of interconnected webs of life. When one country or industry spreads pollution, those toxins disseminate globally. There’s no “wall” that separates or protects us from either historical ignorance or malice.
It doesn’t make sense to specifically lay full blame and/or responsibility on the descendants of the perpetrators. The actions of generation’s past, however, must still be responded to thoughtfully. Responsibility should be shared between the polluter, the polluter’s nation-state that may have sanctioned their behaviors, and the rest of the impacted countries. However, there can be relative responsibility assumed by the country whose citizens performed these deeds. This should become part of a shared, global, cooperative intervention and mitigation.
Keeping Hardin’s lifeboat versus spaceship metaphor in mind, the chosen responses carry deeper meaning than simply mathematical ratios of responsibility. If we see ourselves as all in the situation together, on a spaceship, then we must hold a Cosmopolitan perspective. We are all in this together and need to have a decision making tree with a captain in command. That is contrasted to his more pervasive sense that life is actually more like a lifeboat. There are limited amounts of space and supplies. If we take in all of the “drowning” nations and people, then the whole ship will capsize. It is “complete justice, complete catastrophe” (Hardin, 2).
When the Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred, the primary responsibility was held by Japan, who had constructed the plant and whose people were in closer proximity to the risk. The United States donated $730 million dollars to Japan, helping towards Japan’s immediate needs (Why did Americans donate $730 million to wealthy Japan?, 2014). The fact Japan was given international aid makes sense in my Cosmopolitan model, though the motives for such donations have been questioned. The earthquake was a natural disaster; the existence of a nuclear plant in a dangerous location was Japan’s responsibility. Similarly, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, a parallel could be drawn. The USA took on the burden of the repairs, though 90 nations offered assistance (90 Nations Offer Aid to Help U.S. with Katrina, 2016). The Hurricane was a natural disaster. The lack of infrastructure to protect the city’s poorest residents was a local and national issue. I hope these models of international cooperation can carry forward.
We must construct a paradigm to decide whom we will let onboard and whom we will refuse. That’s more reflective of our reality. How this should be distributed in real time remains problematic. Sorting out the percentage of relative damage into financial obligations requires a shared spirit of reparation. There is no feasible way to precisely divide out the dollars and cents of the expenditures. But, by adopting a Cosmopolitan perspective, ideally we should reach a global consensus on how to divide up the costs and distribution of pollution.
Hardin, Garrett (1974). Lifeboat ethics: The case against helping the poor. Psychology Today:800-812.
Paulson, Tom. “Why did Americans donate $730 million to wealthy Japan?” Humanosphere. N.p., 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 June 2016.
“90 Nations Offer Aid to Help U.S. with Katrina.” MSNBC, 2013. Web. 24 June 2016.
The Past Never Stays in the Past
Response to Emma S.
“Earth is comprised of inter connected webs of life… There’s no ‘wall’ that separates or protects us from either historical ignorance or malice.” I completely agree with your beginning statement and I think you go on to make good points, but veer away from the topic of pollution too much. I understand you’re giving these examples as a way to relate them to the distribution of pollution, but I would have enjoyed knowing more about your thoughts on actual pollution and how it has been distributed in the past.
One point you brought up that I would like to talk about is how it does not make any sense to lay full blame or responsibility on the descendants of the perpetrators. For the most part, I agree, but I am not sure how well that works on an international level. We hold nations responsible for things in the past, and as a result we should be holding nations in the past responsible for the drastic increase in pollution, as it most likely has not stopped. President Obama went to Hiroshima in order to create a future together, and not apologize, but rectify a relationship that was destroyed in the past (Harris, Davis, Soble 2016). In order for Turkey to join the EU, they must admit to the Armenian genocide, which happened in 1915 (Yes, It’s Genocide 2016). Obviously, the perpetrators of this specific situation are no longer alive, yet the EU still wants to hold this country accountable. Maybe this example is a little extreme, 1 million people were exterminated strategically, but also countries are polluting the world with no immediate repercussions.
Ignoring the past is no way to look into the future. We do not necessarily need to condemn these people, but at least hold responsibility to those who have polluted in the past, as those things do not disappear, but impact the climate greatly. I do agree, responsibility should be shared, but not equally as pollution was not released equally. It is, however, difficult to hold people accountable. The United States pollutes extreme amounts, but suffers less than The Marshall Islands, which most likely, will not exist if the planet keeps on warming (Sutter, 2015). How do we account for global justice, when there is no law in place that insures that people like those in drowning islands, will not suffer? You gave a few examples of international aid, but those instances are not guaranteed especially with climate change, how do we get the world to adopt this Cosmopolitan viewpoint? These ideas are grand, and not necessarily plausible, no matter how much we want them to be.
The Editorial Board. “Yes, It’s Genocide.” New York Times. 3 June 2016. Web.
Harris, Gardiner, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, and Jonathan Soble. “Obama to Be First Sitting President to Visit Hiroshima.” New York Times. 10 May 2016. Web. 25 June 2016.
Sutter, John. “Life in a Disappearing Country.” CNN. Cable New Network, n.d. web. 25 June 2016.
Response to Emma S.
I do not believe the cosmopolitan perspective is the most ethically solution to issue of solving global warming effects. While the concept of everyone, despite borders, working together to help battle the negative effects of global warming is ideal and perhaps the most effective. The principle of common but differentiated responsibility seems to be the most logical and reasonable solution
While the polluter pays principle is good in theory, it can easily be deconstructed due to the fact that many original polluters are no longer living, and moving responsibility to decedents is not fair. But at the same time, most pollution derives from systems not individuals or individual companies. If the systems and the norms exist and they continue to create pollution, then it is fair to blame those who have done nothing to change them. It is fair to place blame on a nation for choosing inaction. Therefore, I believe the polluter pays principle can apply.
While I agree with Emma in that metaphorically in Hardin’s discussion, the spaceship is the best choice. Globally, we are in fact in this together; we all feel the effects of global warming. But I am not sure that necessarily means that we are all responsible for the select few’s mistakes. Those who created the problem should be responsible for the problem. It is pretty simple; if one creates a mess it should be that person’s responsibility to clean up the mess.
Many argue that developed countries should bear a majority of the burden. Developed countries have been growing by way of burning fossil fuels for decades, and developing countries have just begun (Walsh). Clearly, there are different levels of blame in this discussion. But even though developed countries have contributed the most, developing countries are experiencing the side effects. Due to their locations, developing countries are more vulnerable to the effects of global warming. These countries have the least capacity, in terms of economics and institutional structure, to deal with the severe impacts (Lowrey).
Lowrey, Annie. “The Inequality of Climate Change.” Economix Blog. N.p., 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 27 June 2016.
Walsh, Bryan. “COP15: Climate-Change Conference.” Time. 10 Dec. 2009. Web. 27 June 2016.
A Cosmopolitan Solution for Climate Change
The effects of global climate change are becoming more evident in recent years. Rising sea levels, less predictable weather, and higher average temperatures are all examples of our worsening global situation. Some may argue that the damage is already done. Others say it may be possible to reverse these conditions if the proper steps are taken to limit ongoing pollution. I’ll assume there is a chance we can reverse this process and of course we can mitigate further damage. I believe the solution to this global climate crisis lies within the cosmopolitan view of justice. I will explain why I believe this later in my post.
There are two questions we must ask in order to make steps towards a solution: who is responsible for creating the pollution that has led us to this point, and who is responsible for changing our current habits? I am a proponent the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’, and I believe this principle answers those two main questions. The concept of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ can be summarized as follows. Responsibility is shared by all states, but the amount of responsibility is different for all parties. The duties each state owes to fix our current pollution problems depend on what they have done and what they are able to do. (Caney) This means that nations are held accountable for what they have done. Furthermore, if an affluent nation can contribute to the solution even after they have there required work they are expected to. I believe this notion of states contributing beyond the status quo is parallel to the cosmopolitan view of justice. Within the cosmopolitan view of justice, people are expected to extend justice to people of other nations, not just their family, friends or fellow citizens, on the basis of everyone is a fellow human being. (Pogge) This view of justice is based on an ideal to strive towards. In a similar way, ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ is based on nations extending their efforts to whatever means they have available, which is an ideal.
I do disagree with one aspect of the principle ‘common but differentiated responsibility’. This principle seems to place responsibility solely on states. I think this overlooks a major contributor to pollution, multinational corporations. You could argue that MNCs are not to blame, because they are generally providing services, like power and sanitation to society. This is true but they should be held responsible for not taking the proper steps to limit their pollution while they provide these services. For example, cargo ships are one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the world. It is estimated that the pollution from these ships can be cut by 80-90% if practices like these were implemented: adopting cleaner fuels, adding exhaust gas cleaning devices, and using clean energy. If they don’t implement any of these methods one source estimates that could be biggest emitter of air pollution in Europe by 2020. (Transport and Environment)
I believe the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ could be the way to solve our global climate crisis, but responsibility must extend to MNCs.
Pogge, Thomas W. “Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty.” Ethics 103.1 (1992): 48-75. Web. 23 June 2016.
Transport and Environment. “Air Pollution from Ships.” European Federation for Transport and Environment. 2016. Web. 23 June 2016.
I believe we should found any discussion about global climate justice within a cosmopolitan view of justice. This is the only logical way to think about climate justice because the effects of climate change extend beyond borders by their very nature. It therefore does not work within our own self-interest or within the larger concept of global justice to address climate change nation by nation. For instance let us look at the food crises that are arising because of climate change. The fishing industry of the pacific islands are suffering acutely. “Higher sea temperatures and ocean acidification [have begun to] degrade the reefs, […] potentially causing a 50% decline in coastal fisheries by the end of the century (Campbell).” This has significantly impacted pacific island communities but will also effect the rest of the globe since “more than 30% of the world’s tuna is caught in the Pacific Island region (Campbell).” This has significant implications specifically for the US where we currently import 19% of our food annually. This number is continuing to rise each year demonstrating the ever-increasing interconnectivity of various human systems (USDA).
Turning to the more specific question of who should pay for the costs associated with climate change I find the approach of “common but differentiated responsibility” to be the most compelling. Continuing with the fishery example; the Pacific Island region is fairly poor in comparison to other nations. Even if the damage to the oceans were proven to be entirely the fault of this region it would be unwise to place all of the responsibility on a region that would be unable to cover the costs. Because of the nature of oceanic problems it is very difficult to pin point who is responsible for oceanic damage and to what extent. Since the US benefits from the Pacific Island region’s natural resources and the exact culprit is difficult to pin point it stands to reason that it would be within our best interests and within our moral responsibility to provide aid. For those who would argue that it is not our responsibility to prevent or address environmental damage outside of our borders I ask how they expect to continue to live in a nation whose way of living has built a demand for certain goods that will be lost if climate change continues on its current course.
Campbell, Bruce. “Climate Change and Pacific Food Systems: Navigating a Perfect Storm.” The Huffington Post. 8 June 2016. Web. 24 June 2016.
Jerardo, Alberto. Import Share of Consumption. Publication. USDA, 8 Apr. 2016. Web. 24 June 2016
Response to Misha
I 100% agree with the stance you took on this topic. It s very important that all humans, weather from the same country or not support each other. This world is run by unity, weather we like it or not. It should morally be all our responsivity’s to reduce the amount of fish we consume and or die from environmental issue, not only for how it effects us, but also the serous issue it proposes in the pacific! I recently visited figi, and I grew to learn that fish is 90% of there diet. With fish out of the picture, these people lack the recourses to produce other foods and would soon begun to stave. I think that climate change is all of the world responsibility, no matter how small your contribution is, and in order to make a change people need to stand up for what they believe, in order to make a change. Part of global justice, is contributing to solving our climate problem, whether how significant your contribution is.
Right to Life and Consent Under a Social Contract
It is morally just to engage in a revolution against a country that does not provide its citizens with a civil means to voice their grievances and hold their government accountable because all people have a right to life and consent to government.
A starting point for many of the most influential political philosophers begins with what rights humans are endowed within a state of nature. Although influential philosophers including Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke may disagree with which rights are endowed and when they can be relinquished, all seem to agree that humans have an inalienable right to self-preservation (Rousseau, 50) (Hobbes, 232) (Locke, 9). If citizens have a right to engage in violence against governments when their life is at imminent risk, then it follows that individuals should also be able to resist when a government is making moves to put their life in imminent risk. If a government is erecting a guillotine at your doorstep, no reasonable person would wait for it to be complete before running. A sovereign with absolute power will always be able to arm itself with the tools necessary to deprive its subjects of their right to life. The only safeguard against this dim fate is the ability to hold a government accountable, and once citizens lose that ability, they lose any assurance to their right of self-preservation. While detractors of this argument may claim that benevolent sovereigns are unlikely to attempt to kill their citizens without just cause, the natural instability of a government-controlled by a sole sovereign will always make their future uncertain. Therefore, It is in self-preservation’s interest to have an assurance of self-preservation.
A second key element stressed by all three political philosophers is the importance of consent at some stage during the social contract. Even Hobbes who appears to be the least inclined to self-determination, argues that the obligation to follow a sovereign’s rule without question stems from voluntarily entering into a congregation (Hobbes, 231). Rousseau goes even further when he writes, “the articles of this contract are so precisely determined by the nature of the act, that the slightest modification must render them null and void” (Rousseau, 60). While both authors argue that once you voluntarily consent to the social contract, you lose the right to judge the sovereign, the initial agreement must still occur before obligation is attached. The necessity for consent in a state-controlled by a sovereign becomes problematic when considering the development of a society over time. As both Rousseau and Locke note, children born into a government are not obligated to contracts their parents make (Rousseau, 55) (Locke, 63). Without an ability to hold a government accountable or a means for the popular citizenship to voice dissent, there exists no method of renegotiating or altering a contract to remain relevant for future generations. A government that forces new generations to tacitly consent to a contract without any say in the contract, is unjust in nature and gives the citizens a right to rebel.
Locke, J. (1690). Second Treatise of Government p. 5-69. Cambridge.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1762. “The First Societies.” In The Social Contract, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 61. Amsterdam/France: Marc-Michel Rev.
Hobbes, T. (1651). Leviathan p. 183-376.