Moral Responsibility for Environmental Problems—Individual or Institutional?
The actions performed by individuals, as consumers and citizens, have aggregate negative consequences for the environment. The question asked in this paper is to what extent it is reasonable to hold individuals and institutions responsible for environmental problems. A distinction is made between backward-looking and forward-looking responsibility. Previously, individuals were not seen as being responsible for environmental problems, but an idea that is now sometimes implicitly or explicitly embraced in the public debate on environmental problems is that individuals are appropriate targets for blame when they perform actions that are harmful to the environment. This idea is criticized in this paper. It is argued that instead of blaming individuals for performing actions that are not environmentally friendly we should ascribe forward-looking responsibility to individuals, a notion that focuses more on capacity and resources than causation and blameworthiness. Furthermore, it is important to emphasize that a great share of forward-looking responsibility should also be ascribed to institutional agents, primarily governments and corporations. The urge to ascribe forward-looking responsibility to institutional agents is motivated by the efficiency aim of responsibility distributions. Simply put, if responsibility is ascribed to governments and corporations there is a better chance of creating a society in which the opportunities to act in an environmentally friendly way increase.
KeywordsIndividual responsibility Environmental problems Ethical consumers Forward-looking responsibility Institutional responsibility
- Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics The Internet Classics Archive, translated by W.D. Ross http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html.
- Brewer, J., & Trentmann, F. (Eds.) (2006). Consuming cultures, global perspectives: Historical trajectories, transnational changes. Oxford: BergGoogle Scholar
- Fischer, J. M., & Ravizza, M. (1993a). Introduction. In J. M. Fischer & M. Ravizza (Eds.), Perspectives on moral responsibility. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
- Garvey, J. (2008). The ethics of climate change. Right and wrong in a warming world. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
- Green, M. (2005). Institutional responsibility for moral problems. In A. Kuper (Ed.), Global responsibilities who must deliver on human rights?. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- IPCC. (2007). Fourth assessment report Climate change synthesis report http://www.ipcc.ch.
- McKeon, R. (1957). The development and the significance of the concept of responsibility. Revue Internationale de Philosophie, XI(39), 3–32.Google Scholar
- Micheletti, M. (2003). Political virtue and shopping: Individuals, consumerism, and collective action. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
- Miller, D. (2005). Distributing responsibilities. In A. Kuper (Ed.), Global responsibilities. Who must deliver on human rights?. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Paul, E. F., Miller, F. D., & Paul, J. (Eds.) (1999) Responsibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Richardson, H. S. (1999). Institutionally divided moral responsibility. In E. F. Paul, F. D. Miller & J. Paul (Eds.), Responsibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Sassatelli, R. (2006). Virtue, responsibility and consumer choice: Framing critical consumerism. In J. Brewer & F. Trentmann (Eds.), Consuming cultures, global perspectives: Historical trajectories transnational changes. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
- Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2005). It’s not my fault. In W. Sinnott-Armstrong & R. B. Howarth (Eds.), Perspectives on climate change: Science, economics, politics, ethics. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
- Strawson P. (1962). Freedom and Resentment. In Proceedings of the British Academy 48. (Reprinted from Perspectives on moral responsibility, in by J. M. Fischer & M. Ravizza, Eds., 1993, Cornell University Press: Ithaca.Google Scholar
- van de Poel, I., Nihlén Fahlquist, J., de Lima, T., Doorn, N., Royakkers, L., Zwart, S. Fairness and completeness in distributing responsibility : The case of engineering (Submitted).Google Scholar