World Ethics and Climate Change: From International to Global Justice

By Paul G. Harris | Go to book overview

PREFACE

More than two decadesof international negotiations have failed to stem emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing global warming and climate change. This book identifies a way to escape this ongoing tragedy of the atmospheric commons. In it I attempt to take a different approach to the ethics and practice of international environmental justice. I propose significant adjustments to the existing international climate change regime, in the process drawing support from cosmopolitan ethics and global conceptions of justice. Ultimately, the book is an argument for a new, cosmopolitan kind of diplomacy and politics that sees people, rather than states alone, as the causes of climate change and the bearers of related rights, responsibilities and obligations.

As the title suggests, this book is about world ethics – an exploration of moral values, norms and responsibilities that apply globally (cf. Dower 2000: 265). It is about a particular kind of world ethic – namely, cosmopolitanism – which asserts that human beings ought to be at the centre of moral calculations, that ethical obligations and responsibilities are not defined or delineated by national borders, and that universal values exist and (for many cosmopolitans) ought to guide the behaviour of people and states (cf. Dower 1997: 561). Importantly, my exploration of world ethics is not a work of abstract philosophy. The aim here is to apply concepts of right and wrong devised by others to the problem of climate change. I take a position and spend some time defending it using selected ethical philosophy, but whether the position is right or wrong from a rigorous philosophical perspective is less important to me than whether it is right or wrong in most people’s minds. As such, the book is about practical world ethics – what we ought (or ought not) to do as well as why we ought to do it (or not). More specifically, the book is about what cosmopolitanism says regarding the causes of global warming (does it matter who or what causes global warming?), the consequences of it (does it matter who is affected, and how they are affected?) and the

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