Ethical Perspectives 11 (1):36-60 (2004)

Axel Gosseries
Catholic University of Louvain
Should the current members of a community compensate the victims of their ancestor’s emissions of greenhouse gases? I argue that the previous generation of polluters may not have been morally responsible for the harms they caused.I also accept the view that the polluters’ descendants cannot be morally responsible for their ancestor’s harmful emissions. However, I show that, while granting this, a suitably defined notion of moral free-riding may still account for the moral obligation of the polluters’ descendants to compensate the current victims of their ancestors’ actions. A concept of transgenerational free-riding is defined. Objections to the idea of using free-riding as part of a theory of justice are rejected. Two different views of moral free-riding are contrasted, with consequences for the amount of compensation to be exigible from the polluters’ descendants. Some final considerations are devoted to the possible relevance of this free-riding-based view for other issues of historical injustice.
Keywords Historical responsibility  Free-riding  Climate Justice
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DOI 10.2143/EP.11.1.504779
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