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Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 811–823 | Cite as

Robust Individual Responsibility for Climate Harms

  • Gianfranco PellegrinoEmail author
Article

Abstract

According to some scholars, while sets of greenhouse gases emissions generate harms deriving from climate change, which can be mitigated through collective actions, individual emissions and mitigation activities seem to be causally insufficient to cause harms. If so, single individuals are neither responsible for climate harms, nor they have mitigation duties. If this view were true, there would be collective responsibility for climate harms without individual responsibility and collective mitigation duties without individual duties: this is puzzling. This paper explores a way to solve this puzzle. First, it will be argued that individual emissions, though not proper and full-fledged causes, causally contribute to raise the probability of climate harms. As a consequence, individuals are in fact responsible for their expected contributions to climate harms – this is contributive responsibility for likely outcomes. Second, it will be argued that people have responsibility also for the possible impacts of their individual emissions on climate harms. People can plausibly be regarded as individually responsible for the possible outcomes of their actions in close possible alternative worlds – this is robust responsibility. Non-causal individual responsibility for climate harms is plausible, and the puzzle may be solved.

Keywords

Climate change Responsibility Causation Frankfurt Possible worlds Shue Subsistence/luxury emissions 

Notes

Acknowledgements

A previous version of this paper has been presented at the Ethical Theory and Moral Practice XX Anniversary Conference, held at the University of Pavia in June 2017. I would like to thank the audience, and Michele Bocchiola, Marcello Di Paola, Marcus Düwell, Dale Jamieson, the Editors of the special volume Emanuela Ceva and Lubomira Radoilska, and the anonymous referees of this Journal for their helpful comments.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LUISS Guido CarliRomeItaly

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