Choosing a Future
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Choosing a Future

The Social and Legal Aspects of Climate Change

Edited by Anna Grear and Conor Gearty

The issue is no longer whether climate change is happening; it is rather what we should now be doing about it. Drawing together key thinkers and policy experts, this unique volume – also a Special Issue of the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment - engages with the human dimensions of climate change, offering a timely intervention into contemporary debates about the challenging relationship between law and society in a time of climate crisis. The result is an imaginative, well-informed and provocative collection of contemporary engagements with the greatest challenge of the age, concerned not only to understand the current crisis but to offer perspectives on how it can be addressed. At the heart of this volume is the conviction that change is urgent, possible and morally imperative.
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Chapter 7: Changing images of climate change: human rights and future generations

Henry Shue


Whilst the climate itself has been changing over recent decades, our understanding has also been evolving. This article highlights four images of the normative significance of climate change. The earliest two, making room and avoiding encroachment, assume that the primary normative issue was how to distribute permissions to emit the carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, which is the chief force undermining the climate. But the evolving science established that the remaining cumulative carbon budget compatible with tolerable degrees of climate change is too small, however it is distributed. The most urgent imperative is to exit the fossil fuel regime and construct an alternative energy regime. The third image pictures this transition as an invaluable opportunity for institutional innovations protecting rights understood to include at least the subsistence need for essential energy. The fourth image, avoiding forced choice, underlines the responsibility of the current generations not to leave future ones with nothing but alternatives that undermine rights.

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