Journal of Value Inquiry:1-18 (forthcoming)

Chad Vance
College of William and Mary
With respect to climate change, what is wanted is an account that morally condemns the production of ‘luxury’ greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., joyriding in an SUV), but not ‘subsistence’ emissions (e.g., cooking meals). Now, our individual greenhouse gas emissions either cause harm, or they do not—and those who condemn the production of luxury emissions generally stake their position on the grounds that they do cause harm. Meanwhile, those seeking to defend the moral permissibility of luxury emissions generally do so by arguing that our individual emissions do not cause harm. Here, I argue that, if our individual emissions do cause harm, then this entails too much. For, it entails not only that our luxury emissions are morally impermissible, but that our subsistence emissions are too. This is an undesirable result. Therefore, I propose that we embrace our other option. Namely, I propose that we accept that our individual emissions do not cause harm; or at least, that they make no perceptible difference with respect to the harms associated with climate change. The result of this admission is not as bad as you might think. For, I argue, even if we are individually causally impotent with respect to the harms of climate change, there remains a plausible route toward the moral condemnation of our individual luxury emissions—contrary to what others have argued. What is more, only by accepting our individual causal impotence can we successfully ground the permissibility of our individual subsistence emissions.
Keywords climate change  collective action  individual emissions  subsistence  self-defense
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DOI 10.1007/s10790-021-09840-y
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