Earthly Goods: Environmental Change and Social Justice

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

I
Environmental Change and
the Varieties of Justice

HENRY SHUE


PREFERENCE AND FAIRNESS

THE various policy communities, including those focused on the environment, tend to accept existing human preferences uncritically when making social choices. Policy analysts seem to do everything but challenge these preferences. They adopt them as if they were a baby left on their doorstep. 1 If, for instance, many people in metropolitan areas happen to prefer traveling to work in private automobiles rather than in commuter trains, policy analysts will judge the health of the economy by the ease with which these people obtain and operate the cars they want.Yet there is no good reason to treat the preferences held at any one time, including the present time, as if they were somehow foundational and immune to assessment when we are setting long‐ term public policy. Indeed, total passivity toward all current human preferences is hopelessly misguided, especially in the face of environmental change caused by global warming. We must decide which preferences to modify in this particular case, however difficult it may be to bring about such change either in ourselves or in others. 2

____________________
1
This point has been powerfully established over the years by Mark Sagoff.See his Economy of the Earth: Philosophy, Law, and the Environment ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), especially chap. 5, " Values and Preferences."
2
It is possible that Americans are more ready to consider change than my worst fears suggest. "People are struggling with deep ambivalence about their own values. . . . Watch television for a day and you will get a clear picture of what Americans supposedly want in life: new cars, a big house, stylish clothes, the latest gadgets—and of course, fresh breath.Yet when Americans describe what they are looking for in life,

-9-

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