Climate Change and Collective Responsibility

  • Steve VanderheidenEmail author
Part of the Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy book series (LOET, volume 27)


Can persons be held morally responsible for harmful consequences that result from the acts or omissions of their nation or society, even if they conscientiously 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 harmful 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 instances 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 frustrate efforts to avoid them, rather than being caused by culpable individual choices alone, in which case individual fault and responsibility could more plausibly be assigned. Furthermore, the harm associated with climate change is caused by aggregated greenhouse pollution from a great many untraceable point sources rather than being the direct result of discrete emissions of heat-trapping gases by particular 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 objections 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.


Moral Responsibility Climate Policy Collective Responsibility Strict Liability Entire Nation 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE)CanberraAustralia

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