Kristof Van Assche / Professor in Philosophy of Law

University of Antwerp / Law, ethics, philosophy

The translation of this testimony was generated automatically by a translation program. Thanks for your understanding.

One of the biggest problems in addressing climate change is the observation that our system of moral judgement is ill equipped to acknowledge our own responsibility. Characteristically, our common-sense doctrine of responsibility holds that: (a) we are much more responsible for our direct actions as compared to what we fail to prevent; (b) we have obligations primarily towards people who are in our close proximity; and (c) we are much more responsible for effects that result only from our own actions as compared to effects that are the joint result of actions of a number of persons.
The complexity of climate change challenges our system of moral judgement because: (a) climate change does not seem to be the result of a direct action that we intended, but the result of inaction (a failure to prevent it); (b) climate change primarily affects persons who are remote in space and time; and (c) climate change is the result of very small contributions by an extremely large number of individuals and institutions. Although some of these characteristics may upon closer inspection need to be qualified, they still make it difficult to recognise our own moral responsibility and may tempt us to use rationalisations to deny or evade responsibility.
In order to recognise that climate change is a problem of individual responsibility, our traditional concepts regarding moral responsibility may need to be revised or expanded. We should embrace: (a) the moral importance of harm that we fail to prevent; (b) moral obligations towards future generations and persons in far-away places negatively affected by our behaviour; and (c) the moral importance of collectively addressing what we have collectively done wrong.
Such a redefined moral framework will affirm the duty to respect the basic rights of current and future generations and will appreciate the duty to respect nature (as such, or at the very least inasmuch as the future of humankind depends on it). It will prompt us to take action at the individual level (by reducing and ultimately eliminating our luxury emissions) and at the collective level, by using our role as citizens to press governments and supranational institutions, and our role as consumers to press industry and commerce, into accelerating the implementation of a policy of climate neutrality.

Originally posted 2018-05-30 09:06:35.