What duties do we have to the unborn, and can these responsibilities be individualized?
Scholars like Caney, Passmore, Hiskes and Schader-Frechette, whose normative arguments you should be familiar with, join the call of such institutions as UNESCO, in emphasizing our obligations to future generations—namely, the obligation to ensure that future generations do not unfairly bear the harms entailed by the environmental policy decisions of current generations. Based on what you have read what, if any, are our moral obligations to future generations?
Once you clearly explain and defend why we have these inter-generational obligations, discuss how—if at all—individuals can contribute to satisfying these responsibilities. Drawing on Schrader-Frechette, O’Rourke, Maniates, and/or Sinnott-Armstrong, explain the extent to which complex global and inter-generational environmental problems can be solved through the efforts of particular individuals. (Alternatively, if you believe that we have no such obligations to future generations, then after defending your explanation why this is so, discuss the extent to which particular individuals can contribute to solving the global environmental problems that current generations wrestle with.)
What should role of public risk perceptions be in setting environmental standards?
Whether we consider the discovery of abandoned hazardous wastes at Niagara Falls, or the outbreak of “mad-cow” disease, or the Exxon Valdez and BP Deepwater Horizon oil spills, or the rapid retreat glaciers and the melting of polar ice caps, such high-profile public health scares and cases of environmental degradation commonly arrest the attention of the nation and the world. Yet, much controversy surrounds the relevance and merit of the public’s perceptions of these risks to the environment and public health and safety—with some commentators insisting that favorable quantitative risk assessments and cost-benefit analyses are necessary to justify any environmental policy.
What is the proper role of public perceptions of risk in setting standards of environmental protection that aim to resolve current policy issues and prevent future environmental problems? Should risk assessment be left to scientists? How should we proceed when threats of environmental harm remain scientifically uncertain—is precaution, then, justified? Why or why not?
Do wealthier nations have moral obligations toward poor countries striving to develop?
Given what we have learned about ecological limits, the apparent tensions between economic development and environmental sustainability, collective action problems and the management of the earth’s finite resources, and global inequities in wealth and resource distribution, what obligations (if any) do wealthier countries have toward poorer developing nations?
For instance, do wealthy countries have a moral obligation to redistribute some of their resources to poorer nations? Do they have the duty to assist poorer countries to achieve higher standards of living, but to assist them in developing more responsibly—by transferring, e.g., relevant technologies to them and helping to build the infrastructure necessary to reduce their strain on the global environment? Or, perhaps less stringently, do wealthy nations have the obligation to reduce the harmful effects that their consumption and global economic practices may have on the welfare of poorer nations?
Identify one moral obligation you believe wealthier nations have toward poorer countries (this obligation need not be any of the examples above), and justify why they have this duty. Then explain how this obligation could be practically implemented in international politics: what specifically would be required of wealthier countries to satisfy this responsibility, and how might we realistically convince these sovereign countries to accept the initiative you propose? (If, alternatively, you do not believe that wealthier countries have any such moral obligation, you must explain why. Why is it that status quo environmental politics pose no normative problems for policy-makers?)
Is economic growth the source of or the solution to our global environmental problems?
Some commentators (e.g., Beckerman 1996, Boyce 2007) have noted that increased wealth—whose precursor is greater economic growth—is positively associated with stronger environmental regulations. This is to say that greater affluence brings with it greater willingness and ability to pay the costs of improving environmental quality. The general claim is that so long as people live in relative poverty, social and environmental problems are commonly overshadowed by economic ones: but that once basic needs and wants are met, individuals and communities are in a unique position to turn their attention and their resources to these policy problems.
Would this imply, in contrast to scholars like Arrow et al. (1995) or Brown (2011), that greater economic growth—and, thus, higher levels of consumption—and greater wealth distribution are necessary to solve our growing global environmental problems? Or are economic goals inherently in tension with environmental policy objectives?