On Explaining Individual and Corporate Culpability in the Global Climate Change Era

Journal of Business Ethics 112 (4):551-558 (2013)

Ian Smith
Washburn University
Humans are causing global climate change (GCC), and such climate change causes harms. Robin Attfield explained how individuals should be understood to be culpable for these harms. In this paper, I use a critical analysis of Attfield’s explanatory framework to explore further difficulties in accounting for corporate responsibility for these harms. I begin by arguing that there are some problems with his framework as it is applied to individuals that emit greenhouse gases (GHGs). I then show that it will be very difficult to extend this framework to corporations. This is not a criticism of Attfield’s work (as he does not discuss corporate responsibility for those harms associated with GCC), but it will serve to show the difficulty in philosophically explaining corporations’ moral culpability when it comes to these harms. In fact, one positive conclusion of this paper is that it highlights a new area of concern that has been ignored in discussions of corporate responsibilities—that of mediated responsibilities—which is how Attfield understands our responsibilities regarding GCC. The discussion of this concern will draw attention to another positive conclusion of this paper: the harms associated with CO2 are very unlike the harms associated with other airborne-emitted substances, which will indicate that we will need new ways of understanding how individuals and corporations are philosophically responsible for these harms. The final positive conclusion of this paper will be a discussion of what the constraints should be on new approaches to explaining our culpability
Keywords Global climate change  Business ethics  Environmental ethics  Corporate responsibility  Individual culpability
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10551-012-1556-3
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 47,201
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford University Press.
My Emissions Make No Difference.Joakim Sandberg - 2011 - Environmental Ethics 33 (3):229-48.
The Corporation as a Moral Person.Peter A. French - 1979 - American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (3):207 - 215.
Comments.Derek Parfit - 1986 - Ethics 96 (4):832-872.

View all 10 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Individual Responsibility for Climate Change.Melany Banks - 2013 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 51 (1):42-66.
Climate Change, Collective Harm and Legitimate Coercion.Elizabeth Cripps - 2011 - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 14 (2):171-193.
Climate Change, Responsibility, and Justice.Dale Jamieson - 2010 - Science and Engineering Ethics 16 (3):431-445.
Corporate Culpability and the Limits of Law.William S. Laufer - 1996 - Business Ethics Quarterly 6 (3):311-324.
Global Justice and Global Climate Change.Duane Windsor - 2009 - Proceedings of the International Association for Business and Society 20:23-34.


Added to PP index

Total views
41 ( #221,909 of 2,289,671 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
4 ( #307,720 of 2,289,671 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes

Sign in to use this feature