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Why Be Cautious with Advocating Private Environmental Duties? Towards a Cooperative Ethos and Expressive Reasons

Abstract

This article start from two opposing intuitions in the environmental duties debate. On the one hand, if our lifestyle causes environmental harm, then we have a duty to reduce that impact through lifestyle changes (lifestyle-matters intuition). On the other hand, many people share the intuition that environmental duties cannot demand to alter our lifestyle radically for environmental reasons. These two intuitions underlie the current dualism in the environmental duties debate: those arguing for lifestyle changes (private duties) and those arguing that our duties are limited to promoting just environmental institutions (promotional duties). The paper has two goals: first, to grasp the underlying reasons for the two intuitions, and, second, to provide a proposal that integrates both intuitions. The paper consists of two main parts. The first part examines the ‘our-duties-should-be-limited’ intuition. Two interpretations are discussed, one under the title ‘what I do make no difference’, dealing with causality and collective action, and one under the title ‘my duty cannot be to change my lifestyle completely’, which discusses demandingness, fairness and value conflict. The second part shows how the ‘lifestyle-matters’ intuition can still play an important role. This part consists of two sections, one on ‘how to make a difference’, which deals with the idea of a cooperative ethos, and the other with ‘why lifestyle matters’, discussing expressive rationality and integrity. These ideas allow giving an important place to lifestyle duties, while avoiding the possible counterproductive effect of a private duties account.

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Notes

  1. See also Neuteleers (2014: 503).

  2. In this number everyone is given an equal share (cf. ‘equal per capital view’) (Singer 2010), which is an intuitively plausible way of distributing individual emission shares, but not the only way.

  3. Cf. Rawls’ primary goods: ‘things that every rational man is presumed to want’ (Rawls 1999, p. 54).

  4. For a detailed discussion, see Neuteleers (2010). There, it was argued that even a liberal and strict promotional duty account can include a significant category of lifestyle actions.

  5. For a good application of Rawls’ account to environmental duties, see Bell (2002, 2005).

  6. For example, one time joyguzzling (a ride for fun in gas guzzling SUV) increases CO2 concentration by one part per quintillion (1/1018) (Kingston and Sinnott-Armstrong 2018, p. 174).

  7. Broome argues that our emissions do ‘expected harm’.

  8. Rawls’ principle of fairness (Rawls 1999, pp. 108–114) can be defined as follows: ‘those who have submitted to these restrictions [of just institutions] have a right to similar acquiescence on the part of those who have benefited from their submission’ (Nozick 1974, p. 90).

  9. Of course, fairness or justice does not only refer to the distribution of contributions. Another aspect concerns the relation with the victims. Here, however, the focus is on explaining the intuition or experience people have. The broader debate is to which extent one should contribute in a situation of partial compliance (‘tacking up the slack’) (Hohl and Roser 2011; Miller 2011).

  10. This is also the view of, for instance, Miller (2011), on the condition that non-compliance is reversible.

  11. Wolf (2007) and Frankfurt (1982, 2009) talk about ‘reasons of love’ both for particular people, as for other subjects, as in the phrase of loving music, flowers or philosophy, but the label love might be confusing because of its connotation with interpersonal love. Frankfurt also talks about the category of importance (versus moral) (Frankfurt 2009) or ‘reasons to care about’ (Frankfurt 1982).

  12. See also Frankfurt (2009, pp. 6–7).

  13. See also Williams (1981, pp. 1–19).

  14. For a detailed discussion, see Neuteleers (2010).

  15. Figures from using WWF’s carbon footprint calculator (https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/carbon/footprint).

  16. This is the expensive option (including ‘radiative forcing’), else the offset would be €23 (www.greentripper.org, used by e.g. Brussels Airlines).

  17. Average Belgian carbon footprint is 8.3 tCO2/y and carbon price in the European Emission Trading System (EU-ETS) is around €25/tCO2 (spring 2019, https://markets.businessinsider.com/commodities/co2-emissionsrechte). This price is relatively high compared to past EU-ETS prices and prices used for offsetting flights (example above: €11/tCO2)—of course, this does not imply the price is high enough.

  18. There are many criticisms of offsetting, both regarding effectiveness (e.g Anderson 2012) and morality (e.g. Goodin 1994). Many offsetting problems (additionality, measurement, control, carbon leakage, etc.) relate to implementating carbon projects in developing countries (e.g. CDM, REDD+). For this reason, I used EU-ETS prices (which do not allow external compensation anymore); there reductions only follow from decreasing emissions.

  19. See, for instance: ‘Young, smart and want to save lives? Become a banker, says philosopher’, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-charities-altruism-idUSKCN0Q10M220150727.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the F.R.S.-FNRS (mandat chargé de recherches). This paper benefitted from the interesting discussions during the MANCEPT workshop on environmental duties. I would like to thank especially Lieske Voget-Kleschin and Paul Knights for the many insightful and helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Stijn Neuteleers.

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Neuteleers, S. Why Be Cautious with Advocating Private Environmental Duties? Towards a Cooperative Ethos and Expressive Reasons. J Agric Environ Ethics 32, 547–568 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-019-09790-3

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Keywords

  • Environmental duties
  • Green lifestyle
  • Expressive rationality
  • Collective-action problems
  • Public support
  • Cooperation