Climate Change, Individual Emissions, and Foreseeing Harm

Journal of Moral Philosophy 14 (5):562-584 (2017)

Chad Vance
College of William and Mary
There are a number of cases where, collectively, groups cause harm, and yet no single individual’s contribution to the collective makes any difference to the amount of harm that is caused. For instance, though human activity is collectively causing climate change, my individual greenhouse gas emissions are neither necessary nor sufficient for any harm that results from climate change. Some (e.g., Sinnott-Armstrong) take this to indicate that there is no individual moral obligation to reduce emissions. There is a collective action problem here, to which I offer a solution. My solution rests on an argument for a (sometimes) bare moral difference between intending harm and foreseeing with near certainty that harm will result as an unintended side-effect of one’s action. I conclude that we have a moral obligation to reduce our individual emissions; and, more broadly, an obligation to not participate in many other harmful group activities (e.g., factory-farming).
Keywords Climate Change  Individual Emissions  Intending Harm  Foreseeing harm  Doctrine of Double-Effect  Causal Impotence  Causal Inefficacy  Collective Action  Sinnott-Armstrong
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DOI 10.1163/17455243-46810060
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References found in this work BETA

Causation.David Lewis - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (17):556-567.
Do I Make a Difference?Shelly Kagan - 2011 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 39 (2):105-141.
My Emissions Make No Difference.Joakim Sandberg - 2011 - Environmental Ethics 33 (3):229-48.
Puppies, Pigs, and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases.Alastair Norcross - 2004 - Philosophical Perspectives 18 (1):229–245.
Consequentialism and the Problem of Collective Harm: A Reply to Kagan.Julia Nefsky - 2011 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 39 (4):364-395.

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Citations of this work BETA

Collective Action Problems and Conflicting Obligations.Brian Talbot - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (9):2239-2261.

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