Benefiting from Failures to Address Climate Change

Journal of Applied Philosophy 31 (4):392-404 (2014)
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The politics of climate change is marked by the fact that countries are dragging their heels in doing what they ought to do; namely, creating a binding global treaty, and fulfilling the duties assigned to each of them under it. Many different agents are culpable in this failure. But we can imagine a stylised version of the climate change case, in which no agents are culpable: if the bad effects of climate change were triggered only by crossing a particular threshold, and it was reasonably, but mistakenly, believed by each country that insufficiently many other countries were willing to cooperate in order for that threshold to remain uncrossed, no country would be required to make a unilateral contribution. Yet even without culpability, we can diagnose a moral ill: the world has gone other than it should have. If not for the mistaken beliefs, there would have been a global climate treaty, and all the avoidance of future suffering that would come with it. In this article I argue that this moral ill has implications for the non-culpable agents, in that it generates duties to disgorge actual holdings over and above the counterpart holdings in the relevant counterfactual: those holdings the agents would have had, were the world to have gone as it should.
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