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Casualties as a moral measure of climate change

Abstract

Climate change will cause large numbers of casualties, perhaps extending over thousands of years. Casualties have a clear moral significance that economic and other technical measures of harm tend to mask. They are, moreover, universally understood, whereas other measures of harm are not. Therefore, the harms of climate change should regularly be expressed in terms of casualties by such agencies such as IPCC’s Working Group III, in addition to whatever other measures are used. Casualty estimates should, furthermore, be used to derive estimates of casualties per emission source up to a given date. Such estimates would have wide margins of error, but they would add substantially to humanity’s grasp of the moral costs of particular greenhouse gas emissions.

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Acknowledgments

I wish to thank Jenna Nolt and Robert Nowell for help with the research for this paper and Klaus Keller for helpful criticisms. Three anonymous reviewers for this journal provided astute suggestions that have substantially improved this paper

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Correspondence to John Nolt.

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This article is part of a special issue on “Multidisciplinary perspectives on climate ethics” with guest editors Marco Grasso and Ezra M. Markowitz.

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Nolt, J. Casualties as a moral measure of climate change. Climatic Change 130, 347–358 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-014-1131-2

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Keywords

  • Human Development Index
  • Cumulative Emission
  • Future People
  • Objective Welfare
  • Preference Satisfaction