Moving Beyond the Impasse
Edited by James Meadowcroft, Oluf Langhelle and Audun Ruud
Chapter 12: Climate change, the common good and the promotion ofsustainable development
The aim of this chapter is to use the notion of the ‘common good’ to ground an environmental ethic that will help underpin our responses to global environmental change, particularly climate change. Given the need to engage in collective action in the face of our climate crisis, combined with the often politically fragile, hesitant and, to date, ineffective nature of such collective action, it becomes important to find ways to ground such action on strong normative principles. Furthermore, many of the actions that are taken arise out of a concern to promote national self-interest, which often has little in common with a state’s declaratory commitment to promote sustainable development. To help break the impasse on collective action to protect our common future, we turn to the development of an environmental ethic based on the notion of the common good. The attempt to apply normative principles to practical problems brings us to issues of applied ethics. When we adopt the notion of the common good as a normative principle this then forms a moral standard that regulates right and wrong conduct in relation to how we–international agencies and organizations, governments, society and the individual–both mitigate and adapt to global climate change. The onus is on us to develop these normative principles because we have the power of reasoning and we have both the capacity and the obligation to act as ethical beings. As we will argue, however, this power does not make humans the primary subjects of ethical deliberations and moral behaviour.
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