Atmospheric Justice: A Political Theory of Climate Change

Atmospheric Justice: A Political Theory of Climate Change

Atmospheric Justice: A Political Theory of Climate Change

Atmospheric Justice: A Political Theory of Climate Change

Synopsis

When the policies and activities of one country or generation harm both other nations and later generations, they constitute serious injustices. Recognizing the broad threat posed by anthropogenic climate change, advocates for an international climate policy development process have expressly aimed to mitigate this pressing contemporary environmental threat in a manner that promotes justice. Yet, while making justice a primary objective of global climate policy has been the movement's noblest aspiration, it remains an onerous challenge for policymakers.

Atmospheric Justiceis the first single-authored work of political theory that addresses this pressing challenge via the conceptual frameworks of justice, equality, and responsibility. Throughout this incisive study, Steve Vanderheiden points toward ways to achieve environmental justice by exploring how climate change raises issues of both international and intergenerational justice. In addition, he considers how the design of a global climate regime might take these aims into account. Engaging with the principles of renowned political philosopher John Rawls, he expands on them by factoring in the needs of future generations. Vanderheiden also demonstrates how political theory can contribute to reaching a better understanding of the proper human response to climate change. By showing how climate policy offers insights into resolving contemporary controversies within political theory, he illustrates the ways in which applying normative theory to policy allows us to better understand both.

Thoroughly researched and persuasively argued,Atmospheric Justicemakes an important step toward providing us with a set of carefully elaborated first principles for achieving environmental justice.

Excerpt

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating effects on the U.S. Gulf coast, the storm, which was a category 4 hurricane when it hit New Orleans in August 2005, breaching Louisiana’s levy system and rendering most of the city uninhabitable, became a set piece in a highly adversarial international war of words over what is widely perceived to be U.S. intransigence against meaningful global climate policy development. In Contrast with two other high-profile natural disasters occurring during the same period—the Indonesian tsunami of December 2004 and the Pakistani earthquake of October 2005— Katrina was seen by some critics of U.S. climate policy as a direct consequence of increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the climatic changes that are expected to result from them. While the United States was victimized by the hurricane, it was seen by some as partially responsible for causing it, unlike those genuinely “natural” (because in no way anthropogenic) disasters in Indonesia and Pakistan. Most countries sent aid to Katrina’s victims— many of whom owned no automobiles and so were among those Americans least responsible for Contributing to climate change through fossil fuel combustion—but some also included pointed criticism in the process, alluding to the U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol and ongoing obstructionism in further climate policy efforts. For example, British Royal commission on Environmental Pollution Chairman Sir John Lawton noted that the increasing intensity of hurricanes, of which Katrina . . .

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