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 7: Cosmopolitanism and Hegemony: The United States and Climate Change

Robert Paehlke


Robert Paehlke On the surface it would seem that hegemonic power in the hands of a nation would encourage a highly internationalist, even if not necessarily a cosmopolitan, outlook within its population. What could be worldlier than hegemony? Today’s hegemonic power, the United States, might also be assumed to have an interest in maintaining global stability since stability is crucial to maintaining its economic and strategic dominance. Yet, until recently, at the national political level the United States hardly even acknowledged one of the greatest threats to stability – climate change. Even today, after the 2010 elections, there is no assurance that the United States will act effectively to protect climate stability and thereby global political and economic stability. Indeed, many of its political leaders and citizens see no reason to act on this issue. To understand the politics of climate change we need to understand why this seeming contradiction continues to exist and why a nation with so much to lose remains reluctant to act. At the level of the ‘security state’ the United States is well aware of the threats to global stability posed by climate change. The US Department of Defense, for example, has paid close attention to the strategic implications of climate change. Some within the security policy community have concluded that: ‘If the United States does not lead the world in reducing fossil-fuel consumption and thus emissions of global warming gases . . . a series of global environmental, social, political and possibly military crises loom that the nation...

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