Runaway climate change: A justice-based case for precautions

Journal of Social Philosophy 40 (2):187-203 (2009)

Catriona McKinnon
University of Reading
From the paper's conclusion: "In conclusion, I have distinguished between two Rawlsian arguments for the SPP [strong precautionary principle] with respect to CCCs [climate change catastrophes]. Although both are persuasive, ultimately the “unbear-able strains” argument provides the most powerful categorical grounds for takingprecautionary action against CCCs. Overall, I have argued that the nature of CCCs requires us to take drastic precautions against further CC that could lead us to passthe tipping points that cause them. This is the case notwithstanding the fact that weare in a state of strong uncertainty with respect to these events; indeed, our stronguncertainty with respect to them—given their nature—makes the case for action toprevent them even more persuasive, from the point of view of justice. Some peopletranslate the strong uncertainty of CCCs into weak uncertainty in order to justifytaking precautionary action using risk assessment.59My argument is complemen-tary to theirs. If divergent approaches to the uncertainty of CCCs neverthelessconverge on the PP, then we have what Cass Sunstein calls an “incompletelytheorized agreement” on a policy, that is, an agreement to which parties divided byoften deep theoretical differences can nevertheless give their assent,60which isall to the good from a political point of view. In the specific case of CC and itspossible catastrophes, the fact that such an agreement has emerged provides asliver of hope in the face of the increasingly dismal prospects for the planetuncovered by CC science as it progresses. At the level of principle, we are agreed,whatever justificatory reasons we advance. What is needed now—in the immedi-ate present—is policy to promote our principles, and the political will to enact it."
Keywords climate justice  climate ethics  precautionary principle
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9833.2009.01446.x
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Climate Change and Ethics.Tim Hayward - 2012 - Nature Climate Change 2:843–848.
Weighing the Risks of Climate Change.Lara Buchak - 2019 - The Monist 102 (1):66-83.
The Irrelevance of the Risk-Uncertainty Distinction.Dominic Roser - 2017 - Science and Engineering Ethics 23 (5):1387-1407.
The Precautionary Principle and the Dilemma Objection.Daniel Steel - 2013 - Ethics, Policy and Environment 16 (3):321-340.

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