Future Harms and Current Offspring

Ethics, Policy and Environment 14 (1):23-26 (2011)
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By providing an explicit estimate of the harms caused by personal greenhouse gas emissions, John Nolt (in his “How Harmful are the Average American’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions?”) hopes to undermine tendencies to downplay these emissions and their impacts on global climate change. He estimates that an average American would be responsible for one two-billionth of the suffering or death of two billion people (over 1000 years). He treats this as equivalent to being responsible for the suffering or death of one person. In my paper I argue that these are not equivalent, and that the former is less problematic than the latter. I end with the suggestion that, in terms of personal emissions, having fewer children is more effective than merely reducing our current emissions.

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Jason Kawall
Colgate University


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