Ethics and Global Environmental Policy
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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.
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Chapter 4: Individual Responsibility and Voluntary Action on Climate Change: Activating Agency

Jennifer Kent


Jennifer Kent1 INTRODUCTION Climate change presents as a ‘diabolical’ problem and represents the greatest challenge to humanity of this century.2 According to Gardiner, the problem of climate change is characterized by three key factors: complexity, lack of causality and institutional inadequacy.3 Each of these contribute to what Gardiner describes as a ‘perfect moral storm’ as they represent areas of ethical deliberation essential to resolving the climate change problem but for which existing ethical frameworks are inadequate. Gardiner reasons that the complexity and longevity of the climatic impacts of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is signified by the extension of climate change obligations both spatially, as a global issue, and temporally, as an intergenerational one.4 Who should bear the costs and burdens of climate change is therefore unclear as there is no single causal agent that can be identified as being responsible for the problem. Climate change therefore demands an unprecedented level of global cooperation which calls into doubt the adequacy of existing institutions to address the problem. This positions climate change ‘as the moral challenge of our generation’5 and throws up ethical contestations not only internationally but also between each nation and its citizens. Responses to the climate change challenge remain largely within the province of international institutions that apply ‘top-down’ strategies to be delivered by states through their national climate policies. However, governments often emphasize responsibility for climate change action at the individual and household level, that is, from the ‘bottom-up’. This assumes that the summation of local actions...

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