Climate Change and Free Riding

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
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  • 1 University of Colorado, USA

Does the receipt of benefits from some common resource create an obligation to contribute toward its maintenance? If so, what is the basis of this obligation? I consider whether individual contributions to climate change can be impugned as wrongful free riding upon the stability of the planet's climate system, when persons enjoy its benefits but refuse to bear their share of its maintenance costs. Two main arguments will be advanced: the first urges further modification of H.L.A. Hart’s “principle of fairness” as the basis for demanding that would-be free riders pay their fair share in the context of climate change, while the second claims that remedial action on climate change is better captured through collective action analysis than through harm principles that seek to connect individual actions to bad environmental outcomes.

  • 2

    Gosseries (2004) and Gardiner (2011) have likewise cast climate change as resulting from free riding, with Gosseries terming it a problem of ‘transgenerational free riding,’ focusing on historical emissions and seeking a basis for national mitigation burden-sharing principles rather than as a way to fault individual pollution actions and thus to justify state coercion, and Gardiner examining free riding at the individual level but invoking virtue ethics to ward off such selfish motives. See Axel Gosseries, ‘Historical Emissions and Free Riding,’ Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004), pp. 36–60, and Stephen M. Gardiner, A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

  • 3

    Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 61.

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     See Robyn Eckersley, ‘The Politics of Carbon Leakage and the Fairness of Border Measures,’ Ethics & International Affairs 24 (2010): 367–93.

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  • 8

    Barrett, Why Cooperate?, p. 93.

  • 12

    Parfit, Reasons and Persons, p. 79.

  • 15

    Dale Jamieson, ‘Ethics, Public Policy, and Global Warming,’ Science, Technology, and Human Values 17 (1992), p. 148.

  • 16

    Iris Marion Young, ‘Responsibility and Global Labor Justice,’ Journal of Political Philosophy 12 (2004), p. 373.

  • 17

    Stephen Gardiner, ‘Climate Change and a Challenge to our Ethical Concepts,’ in The Ethics of Global Climate Change, ed. Denis Arnold (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 53.

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  • 20

    Phillip Pettit, ‘Free Riding and Foul Dealing,’ The Journal of Philosophy 83 (1986), 361–79 at p. 367.

  • 22

    Frank Miller and Rolf Sartorius, ‘Population Policy and Public Goods,’ Philosophy and Public Affairs 8 (1979), 148–74 at p. 161.

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  • 23

    H.L.A. Hart, ‘Are There Any Natural Rights?,’ Philosophical Review 64 (1955), 175–91 at p. 185.

  • 24

    Miller and Sartorius, ‘Population Policy and Public Goods,’ p. 165.

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    Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), p. 95.

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    A. John Simmons, ‘The Principle of Fair Play’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 8 (1979), 307–37 at p. 311.

  • 29

    Simmons, ‘The Principle of Fair Play,’ p. 327.

  • 30

    George Klosko, ‘The Principle of Fairness and Political Obligation,’ Ethics 97 (1987), 353–62 at p. 354.

  • 32

    Klosko, ‘The Principle of Fairness and Political Obligation,’ p. 355.

  • 33

    Henry Shue, Basic Rights (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980).

  • 35

    Henry Shue, ‘Subsistence Emissions and Luxury Emissions,’ Law & Policy 15 (1993): 39–60.

  • 36

    Richard J. Arneson, ‘The Principle of Fairness and Free-Rider Problems,’ Ethics 92 (1982), 616–33 at p. 619.

  • 37

    Arneson, ‘The Principle of Fairness and Free-Rider Problems,’ pp. 622–23.

  • 39

    Arneson, ‘The Principle of Fairness and Free-Rider Problems,’ p. 633.

  • 40

    Arneson, ‘The Principle of Fairness and Free-Rider Problems,’ p. 627.

  • 41

    Arneson, ‘The Principle of Fairness and Free-Rider Problems,’ p. 633.

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