Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 112, Issue 4, pp 551–558 | Cite as

On Explaining Individual and Corporate Culpability in the Global Climate Change Era

Invited Contribution


Humans are causing global climate change (GCC), and such climate change causes harms. Robin Attfield explained how individuals should be understood to be culpable for these harms. In this paper, I use a critical analysis of Attfield’s explanatory framework to explore further difficulties in accounting for corporate responsibility for these harms. I begin by arguing that there are some problems with his framework as it is applied to individuals that emit greenhouse gases (GHGs). I then show that it will be very difficult to extend this framework to corporations. This is not a criticism of Attfield’s work (as he does not discuss corporate responsibility for those harms associated with GCC), but it will serve to show the difficulty in philosophically explaining corporations’ moral culpability when it comes to these harms. In fact, one positive conclusion of this paper is that it highlights a new area of concern that has been ignored in discussions of corporate responsibilities—that of mediated responsibilities—which is how Attfield understands our responsibilities regarding GCC. The discussion of this concern will draw attention to another positive conclusion of this paper: the harms associated with CO2 are very unlike the harms associated with other airborne-emitted substances, which will indicate that we will need new ways of understanding how individuals and corporations are philosophically responsible for these harms. The final positive conclusion of this paper will be a discussion of what the constraints should be on new approaches to explaining our culpability.


Global climate change Business ethics Environmental ethics Corporate responsibility Individual culpability 



I want to thank audiences at the 17th Annual International Vincentian Conference Promoting Business Ethics (especially Ben Almassi), Pacific Lutheran University (especially Erin McKenna, Gregory Johnson, and Paul Menzel), and Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Environmental Ethics Conference (especially Mary Lyn Stoll) for their very useful feedback. I also want to thank Leslie Francis, Kara Schrader, Nelson Eby, and Avram Hiller for their helpful comments on this project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy/Loyola University New OrleansNew OrleansUSA

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