Climate change and collective responsibility

Steven Vanderheiden

    Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    Can persons be held morally responsible for harmful consequences that result from the acts or omissions of their nation or society, even if they conscien-tiously avoid contributing toward those consequences qua individuals? What if those acts and omissions, together with a great many other similar ones committed against the backdrop of social norms that tolerate and even encourage such harm-ful behavior, contribute to a global environmental problem that gives rise to valid claims for compensation on the part of those harmed by it, but where discrete in-stances of harm cannot be attributed to any specific persons as directly causally responsible? Such is the case with global climate change, which results in part from social norms that are permissive of polluting activities and which often fru-strate efforts to avoid them, rather than being caused by culpable individual choic-es alone, in which case individual fault and responsibility could more plausibly be assigned. Furthermore, the harm associated with climate change is caused by ag-gregated greenhouse pollution from a great many untraceable point sources rather than being the direct result of discrete emissions of heat-trapping gases by particu-lar persons, undermining standard accounts of individual moral responsibility and thus giving rise to claims for assigning responsibility collectively instead. But holding nations and peoples collectively responsible for climate change raises ob-jections from the perspective of individual moral responsibility, at least insofar as some persons may be implicated qua members of groups when they are faultless as individuals.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationMoral responsibility
    Subtitle of host publicationBeyond free will and determinism
    EditorsNicola A. Vincent, Ibo van de Poel, Jeroen van den Hoven
    Place of PublicationLondon, UK
    Number of pages18
    ISBN (Electronic)9789400718784
    ISBN (Print)9789400718777
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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