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 8: Overcoming the Planetary Prisoners’ Dilemma: Cosmopolitan Ethos and Pluralist Cooperation

Philip S. Golub and Jean-Paul Maréchal

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


Philip S. Golub and Jean-Paul Maréchal INTRODUCTION In a November 2008 article entitled ‘Science: The Coming Century’, Martin Rees writes that if the science of climate change is intricate, it is ‘straightforward compared to the economics and politics’.1 Indeed, global warming poses a unique nexus of economic, political and philosophical challenges – a ‘perfect moral storm’2 – for at least three reasons. First, its causes are globally dispersed and its effects are non-localized. Simply put, driving a car in Paris has no more effect in France than in Hong Kong, and vice versa. Second, the mean lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 ranging between 30,000–35,000 years, there is a very long time lag before the natural carbon cycle neutralizes the anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases (GHG).3 The effects on sea levels of driving a car today will become manifest only in a couple of decades. Consequently, we have to consider the problem of justice both on the intragenerational level (between individuals, nations and social groups today) and on the intergenerational one (between people and societies living in different periods of time). Last but not least, our ‘theoretical ineptitude’ makes it difficult to solve the problems at hand. As Stephen Gardiner aptly points out, ‘we are extremely ill-equipped to deal with many problems characteristic of the long-term future. Even our best theories face basic and often severe difficulties addressing basic issues such as scientific uncertainty, intergenerational equity, contingent persons, nonhuman animals and nature.’4 The facts on which our judgments...

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