How should we think of the relationship between the climate harms that people will suffer in the future and our current emissions activity? Who does the harming, and what are the moral implications? One way to address these questions appeals to facts about the expected harm associated with one’s own individual energy-consuming activity, and argues that it is morally wrong not to offset one’s own personal carbon emissions. The first half of the article questions the strength of this argument. The second half then maintains that a different kind of argument for the same conclusion is stronger. This focuses on the harms that are attributable to carbon-emitters considered collectively.
What requirements does morality impose on us in relation to climate change? This question can be asked of individuals, of the entire global population, and of groups of various sizes in between. Given the case for accepting that we all collectively ought to be causing less climate-affecting pollution than we do, what follows from that about the moral status of the actions of members of the larger group? I examine two main ways in which moral requirements on group members can derive from requirements that apply to the larger group. But neither of them seems to apply to the case of climate-affecting pollution. This may be a case where we together act wrongly, although no-one’s contribution to our doing so is wrong.
The relationship in which we stand, as consumers of energy, to the harms caused by climate change, is one of the issues considered in the final chapter of this book.