Earthly Goods: Environmental Change and Social Justice

By Fen Osler Hampson; Judith Reppy | Go to book overview

Introduction:
Framing the Debate

FEN OSLER HAMPSON, PIERRE LABERGE,
and JUDITH REPPY

THE specter of global warming haunts the Earth's future.We are already familiar with the problem of ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere caused by the release of manmade chemicals. In the next century the world will experience climate changes on a global scale because of the buildup of "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of the Earth's forests. Although the exact timing and magnitude of the changes cannot be predicted, they are likely to leave no country untouched. At the same time deforestation and other human activities are leading to the extinction of many plant and animal species and a concomitant reduction in the planet's genetic stockpile. What principles should guide our response to these undesirable consequences of human activity? We argue that a concern for social justice is central to devising acceptable policies for a global response to environmental change and should be placed at the forefront of the international debate.

To a large extent this concern for social justice is already present. Although warnings from the scientific community and environmental groups were responsible for catapulting global warming to the forefront of the international agenda, international negotiations have not centered on scientific details so much as on who should do what to halt and reverse the ecological damage that imperils the future quality of life. In other words, the negotiations, such as the 1992 Rio Conference on the Environment and Sustainable Development, have become an important arena for competing claims and counterclaims about who should assume moral responsibility for cleaning up the environ

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