Individuals’ Contributions to Harmful Climate Change: The Fair Share Argument Restated

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 32 (4):569-590 (2019)
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Abstract

In the climate ethics debate, scholars largely agree that individuals should promote institutions that ensure the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This paper aims to establish that there are individual duties beyond compliance with and promotion of institutions. Duties of individuals to reduce their emissions are often objected to by arguing that an individual’s emissions do not make a morally relevant difference. We challenge this argument from inconsequentialism in two ways. We first show why the argument also seems to undermine the case for duties to promote institutions that the arguments’ proponents endorse. Second, we argue that individuals ought to cut emissions if they exceed their fair share of emissions entitlements and, by emitting, contribute to climate-related harm. In response to inconsequentialism, we specify the notion of ‘contribution’ via the so-called NESS theory, according to which an act is causally relevant for and contributes to an outcome if it is a Necessary Element of a Set of conditions that is Sufficient for the outcome. After refuting two objections to our approach, we conclude by discussing how to deal with possible conflicts between duties to promote institutions and to reduce one’s emissions.

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