Ethics and Global Environmental Policy

Ethics and Global Environmental Policy

Cosmopolitan Conceptions of Climate Change

Edited by Paul G. Harris

This collection of provocative essays re-evaluates the world’s failed policy responses to climate change, in the process demonstrating how cosmopolitan ethics can inform global environmental governance.

Chapter 3: Climate Change and the Cosmopolitan Responsibility of Individuals: Policy Vanguards

Nigel Dower

Subjects: environment, climate change, environmental politics and policy, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy


Nigel Dower INTRODUCTION In this chapter I explore a cosmopolitan basis for saying that individuals whose lifestyles are carbon-intensive have an obligation to play their part in reducing their own carbon emissions and those of others. I shall argue for a middle position. That is, it is neither the case that individuals have no (significant) obligation to do this, nor the case that our obligations are relentlessly overwhelming. The kinds of activities we are obliged to do are wide-ranging, varying from reducing our own carbon footprints to compensatory actions, advocating changes in others and engaging in political action. Furthermore, it is part of a cosmopolitan perspective that this obligation is to be accepted prior to and independent of this obligation being reinforced by international agreements, national laws and regulations, economic incentives or general social pressure to act in these ways. This is important partly because it is only if some people recognize their obligations in advance of wider acceptance that the necessary ‘vanguard action’ to stimulate essential wider change is possible. I present a cosmopolitan account in terms of the duties of ‘non-maleficence’ (we ought not to harm others or cause harm to others) and beneficence, but my main interest is in exploring the implications of adopting a cosmopolitan point of view rather than establishing this as a better starting point than other cosmopolitan principles. These implications are significant for any account of serious cosmopolitan responsibility. I shall take for granted what appears to be an overwhelming consensus that if...

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