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Justice and Past Emissions Stephen M. Gardiner Department of Philosophy and Program on Values in Society University of Washington, Seattle.

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Presentation on theme: "Justice and Past Emissions Stephen M. Gardiner Department of Philosophy and Program on Values in Society University of Washington, Seattle."— Presentation transcript:

1 Justice and Past Emissions Stephen M. Gardiner Department of Philosophy and Program on Values in Society University of Washington, Seattle

2 Part I Introduction

3 The Broad Consensus in Climate Ethics  Serious climate action is required (‘the action claim’)  The developed countries should bear the largest burden of a transition to a low carbon future, at least in the short-term (‘the burden claim’). These views are not completely unanimous, and there are differences in the details; still, they are very widespread.

4 Support for the Burden Claim The major approaches to fairness:  Historical: the developed countries are responsible for most of the cumulative emissions currently causing climate change  Moral equality: the developed countries consume much more per capita than other countries (e.g., in 2007, the US average was 5.32 metric tons of carbon, Australia 4.84, the UK 2.47 New Zealand 2.11; China 1.16, India 0.35, and Bangladesh 0.08)  Priority to the least well-off: developed countries are much richer on average (per capita income in 2007 was more than US$45,000 in the US and UK, but only $2604 in China, $976 in India, and $428 in Bangladesh), and more than 10% of the world’s population lives on less than $1 per day, unable to meet their basic needs (UN 2009).  Utilitarianism: it seems better for happiness to allow the global poor access to emissions to meet their subsistence needs and to move out of poverty, than to protect the “luxury emissions” of the richer countries. Moreover, there are good utilitarian reasons for supporting the other approaches to justice, as secondary principles (Singer 2002)

5 Hesitation about Past Emissions A mainstream position: deny relevance prior to 1990 (or perhaps somewhere 1985-1995) deny relevance prior to 1990 (or perhaps somewhere 1985-1995) arguing that prior responsibility is implausible, largely on ethical grounds arguing that prior responsibility is implausible, largely on ethical grounds (e.g., Singer 2002, Jamieson 2001, Caney 2004, Miller 2010, Posner and Sunstein 2008, Posner and Weinstein 2010) Some core arguments: ignorance ignorance “first-come, first-served” “first-come, first-served” dead emitters dead emitters practicality practicality

6 Thesis General conclusions:  The usual objections to taking past emissions seriously are too quick.  The issue of past emissions is more complex than the mainstream position suggests.  Past and future emissions are intertwined, and cannot be so easily separated. Specific proposals:  Reject the simple threshold and 1990 views in favor of a more complex profile  Accept the “fair access” framing  Take seriously the wider consequences of rejecting liability for past emissions, and collective responsibility  Limit liability by appealing to pluralism and a conditional responsibility view

7 Part II The Presumptive Arguments

8 (1) “You Broke It, (therefore) You Fix It”  Those who cause a problem have an obligation to rectify it, and also assume additional liabilities, such as for compensation, if the problem imposes costs or harms on others. Already familiar in environmental law and regulation (e.g., the “polluter pays” principle)

9 (2) Fair Access The atmosphere’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gases without adverse effects is a limited resource that is, or ought to be, held in common. The atmosphere’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gases without adverse effects is a limited resource that is, or ought to be, held in common. If some have used up the resource, and in doing so denied others access to it, then compensation may be owed. The latecomers have been deprived of their fair share. If some have used up the resource, and in doing so denied others access to it, then compensation may be owed. The latecomers have been deprived of their fair share.

10 Part III The Ignorance Objection

11 The Basic Objection Past polluters were ignorant of the adverse effects of their emissions, and so ought not to be blamed. They neither intended nor foresaw the effects of their behavior, and so should not be held responsible.

12 Todd Stern (the top U.S. negotiator) at Copenhagen: “I actually completely reject the notion of a debt or reparations or anything of the like. For most of the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, people were blissfully ignorant of the fact that emissions caused a greenhouse effect. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon.”

13 Response #1: Blame isn’t the issue Some relevant concepts:  Causal responsibility: A brought it about that X  Moral responsibility: A has a duty with respect to X (e.g., to avoid or prevent it)  Moral Blame: A should be morally blamed if X occurs  Moral Accountability: A is morally liable if X occurs (e.g. to compensate for the costs) Claim: We can have moral responsibility without moral blame, but with moral accountability

14 Example: if my dog digs under my (imposing and serious) fence, escapes into your yard and destroys your vegetable patch, I am not causally responsible or morally blamable, but I am morally responsible and accountable for the damage. (This is so even if the damage is not the result of negligence on my part. The basic point is: it is my dog, and part of what one takes on when one has a dog is these kinds of responsibilities.)

15 Response #2: “You Broke It, You Fix It” Rationale Commonsense morality: if I accidentally break something of yours, we usually think that I have some obligation to fix it, even if I was ignorant that my behavior was dangerous, and perhaps even if I could not have known. Why? It remains true that I broke it, and in many contexts that is sufficient. After all, if I am not to fix it, who will? Even if it is not completely fair that I bear the burden, isn’t it at least less unfair than leaving you to bear the costs of my behavior alone? (e.g., Shue)

16 Response #3: Fair Access Rationale Suppose that I unwittingly deprive you of your share of something and benefit from doing so. Isn’t it natural to think that I should step in to help when the problem is discovered? Example: Suppose that everyone in the office chips in to order pizza for lunch. You have to dash out for a meeting, and so leave your slices in the refrigerator. I (having already eaten my slices) discover and eat yours because I assume that they must be going spare. You return to find that you now don’t have any lunch. Is this simply your problem? We don’t usually think so. Even though I didn’t realize at the time that I was taking your pizza, this does not mean that I have no special obligations. The fact that I ate your lunch remains morally relevant.

17 Response #4: Who knew, and when did they know it? 1965: Johnson Administration “Through his worldwide industrial civilization, Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment. Within a few generations he is burning the fossil fuels that slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years. The C02 produced by this combustion is being injected into the atmosphere; about half of it remains there. The estimated recoverable reserves of fossil fuels are sufficient to produce nearly a 200% increase in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere.” (126)

18 Understanding a Basic Threat “Pollutants have altered on a global scale the carbon dioxide content of the air” (p. 1) “the data show, clearly and conclusively, that from 1958-1963, the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere increased by 1.36 percent” (116) “We can conclude with fair assurance that at the present time fossil fuels are the only source of CO2 being added to the ocean-atmosphere-biosphere system.” (119) “By the year 2000 the increase in atmospheric CO2 will be close to 25%. This may be sufficient to produce measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate …” (126-7) “With a 25% increase in atmospheric CO2, the average temperature near the earth’s surface could increase from 0.6 to 4.0 degrees C, depending on the behavior of the atmospheric water vapor content … A doubling of CO2 in the air, which would happen if a little more than half of the fossil fuel reserves were consumed, would have about three times the effect of a twenty-five percent increase.” (121) [three times = 1.8- 12.0C]

19 Response #5: Why a Sharp Threshold? Surely there are important gradations both before and after 1990 … Emissions prior to 1990: An evolving view? Arrenhius (1903) … Keeling 1960s … Johnson Administration (1965) Emissions after 1990: Example: US initial commitment to stabilizing emissions at 1990 levels by 2000, basic agreement to Kyoto (1998), withdrawal from Kyoto (2001), Copenhagen commitments (2009) …

20 Part IV The “First-come, First-served” Objection

21 An (Alleged) Disanalogy In the pizza case, you have a clear right to the eaten slices, because you have already paid for them. But in the case of emissions, where the shares of the latecomers are used up by those who come earlier, it might be maintained that the latecomers have no such claim. Perhaps it is simply “first-come, first served,” and hard luck to the tardy.

22 A Counter-interpretation: “Free for All” If a resource initially appears to be unlimited, then those who want to consume it might simply assume at the outset that no issues of allocation arise. Everyone can take whatever they want, with no adverse consequences for others. In this case, the principle is not really first-come, first-served (which implies that the resource is limited, so that some may lose out), but rather “free for all” (which does not). Since it is assumed that there is more than enough for everyone, no principle of allocation is needed.

23 “So, What Happens If …”? What if the assumption that the resource is unlimited turns out to be mistaken, so that free for all becomes untenable? Do those who have already consumed large shares have no special responsibility to those who have not, and now cannot? Does the original argument for “free for all” justify ignoring the past? Does the original argument for “free for all” justify ignoring the past?

24 Arguably, not … If the parties had considered at the outset the possibility that the resource might turn out to be limited, which allocation principle would have seemed more reasonable and fair: (a) “free for all, with no special responsibility for the early users if the resource turns out to be limited”, or (b) “free for all, but with early users liable to extra responsibilities if the assumption of unlimitedness turns out to be mistaken”? Reasons to reject (b): makes later users vulnerable in an unnecessary way, makes later users vulnerable in an unnecessary way, provides a potentially costly incentive to consume early if possible provides a potentially costly incentive to consume early if possible especially implausible if there are harms to third parties as well. especially implausible if there are harms to third parties as well.

25 Part IV The Dead Emitters Objection

26 The Basic Objection Since significant anthropogenic emissions have been occurring since 1750, many past polluters are now dead. Given this, it is said, “polluter pays” principles no longer really apply to a substantial proportion of past emissions; instead, what is really being proposed under the banner of polluter pays is that the descendents of the original polluters should pay for those emissions, because they have benefited from the past pollution (because of industrialization in their countries). However, the argument continues, this “beneficiary pays principle” is unjust because it holds current individuals responsible for emissions that they did not cause (and could not have prevented), and in ways which diminish their own opportunities.

27 Response #1: Not Dead! (a) More than half of cumulative emissions have occurred since the mid-1970s. So, for much of the pollution, many of the polluters are still around. (b) “Polluter pays” can still apply if it refers not to individuals as such but to some entity to which they are connected, such as a country, people, or corporation. Moreover, this is the case in climate change, where polluter pays is usually invoked to suggest that countries should be held responsible for their past emissions, and these typically (though not always) have persisted over the time period envisioned.

28 Response #2: Defending the Collective Many proponents of the ‘dead emitters’ objection the moral relevance of states, and instead invoke a strong individualism that claims that only individuals should matter ultimately from the moral point of view. However, this move makes the argument more controversial that it initially appears. On the one hand, even many individualists would argue that states often play the role of representing individuals and discharging many of their moral responsibilities. Given this, more needs to be said about why the fact of membership is irrelevant for assigning responsibility.

29 Response #3: Radical Individualism? On the other hand, the argument ignores the issue that a very strong individualism would also call into question many other practices surrounding inherited rights and responsibility. Put most baldly, if we are not responsible for at least some of the debts incurred by our ancestors, why are we entitled to inherit all of the benefits of their activities? In particular, if we disavow their emissions, must we also relinquish the territory and infrastructure they left to us? The worry here is that, if successful, the attempt to undermine polluter (or beneficiary) pays is liable to prove too much, or at least to presuppose a radical rethinking of global politics. Perhaps this radicalism is theoretically correct. Still, it is not clear that it is okay to apply it selectively in this context.

30 An Alternative Approach Of course, it is true that holding some contemporaries accountable for the past emissions of their ancestors/benefactors may result in unacceptable burdens for them. However:  We should recognize that this is a different issue, to be addressed on its merits.  We can also say that past emissions are only one of the relevant ethical considerations, to be integrated with others.  We could propose that those who find the overall package of benefits and burdens bequeathed to them be allowed to relinquish both the benefits and burdens, and return to a background state of equality.

31 Part IV The Practicality Objection

32 Political Impracticality Objection: if agreement is to be politically feasible, we must ignore the past and be forward-looking in our approach..

33 Response #1: ‘Oh Yeah?’ Claim: the objection makes a rash claim about political reality. A genuinely global agreement is needed to tackle climate change, and since many nations of the world would not accept an agreement that did not explicitly or implicitly recognize past disparities, any attempt to exclude the past from consideration is itself seriously unrealistic. (Neumeyer 2000, Athanasiou and Baer 2002).

34 Response #2: Is Separation so Easy? On the one hand, the future emissions that make climate change pose such a large threat do so principally against the backdrop of past emissions. Not only do these remain in the atmosphere for a long time, but they also make any given level of future emissions more dangerous than it might have been. Hence, the past constrains the future, and past emitters might be held liable for that. On the other hand, a similar point applies in reverse. The “liability” of the past is in part determined by future behavior. Past emissions become more dangerous if there are greater future emissions. Hence, though it might initially be tempting to assign responsibility for adaptation efforts (say) solely on the basis of past emissions, this obscures the fact that how much adaptation is ultimately necessary (or feasible) will depend on future emissions as well. Given these points, the issue of past emissions casts a notable shadow over other allocation questions.

35 Part VIII Conclusions

36 Thesis General conclusions:  The usual objections to taking past emissions seriously are too quick.  The issue of past emissions is more complex than the mainstream position suggests.  Past and future emissions are intertwined, and cannot be so easily separated. Specific proposals:  Reject the simple threshold and 1990 views in favor of a more complex profile  Accept the “fair access” framing  Take seriously the wider consequences of rejecting liability for past emissions, and collective responsibility  Limit liability by appealing to pluralism and a conditional responsibility view


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