Singer on climate change

A few posts down I mention Peter Singer on egalitarianism. It must be Peter Singer week in the blogosphere, because over at his blog Philosophy Sucks!, Richard Brown also has a post quoting Singer, this time on the subject of climate change:

Yesterday LaGuardia College hosted Peter Singer who gave a short talk entitled “Climate Change and Ethics.” His basic argument was that by any reasonable standard of justice that one picks the U.S. comes out having a duty to lead the movement to reduce climate change. This is directly contrary to Bush’s stated reason for opting out of the Kyoto agreement (he said it wasn’t an ‘even-handed’ agreement because it exempted China and India . . . thereby implying that the treaty was unjust). He talked about three reasonable sounding principles of justice.

1. You break it you buy it: Historically the U.S. has been the number one contributor to greenhouse gasses and so should have the most responsiblity for cleaning up the environment

2. Forget the past, divide it up evenly according to how much each industrialized nation pollutes: The U.S. puts out about six times as much greenhouse gasses (per capita) as any other industrialized nation and so again, we have the greatest responsibility to clean up the environment

3. Benefit the least advantaged: This is the Rawlsian conception of justice according to which an inequality is acceptable only if it is to the advantage of the least advantaged member of (the global) society. This would (obviously) entail that the U.S. would have to make drastic cuts to the amount of greenhouse gasses that we contribute (per capita).

So no matter how you slice it it looks like the U.S. has a moral obligation to take the lead in reducing climate change, and yet we refuse to be a part of Kyoto because it is “unfair”!

Until recently, Australia was also a Kyoto holdout. Following the recent election however, one of the first things Kevin Rudd’s new Labour government has done is to ratify the Kyoto protocol. Let’s hope that following the U.S. election in a year’s time, we see something similar happen there.

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