Feb 26, 2024  
Catalogue 2019-2020 
Catalogue 2019-2020 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

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ENST 288 - Ethical Problems of Climate Change

Semester Offered: Spring
1 unit(s)
(Same as ECON 288  and PHIL 288 ) The individuals and nations who have benefited most from carbon emissions are not those who will bear the most significant harms of climate change. Most of the earliest harms will be borne by some of the most vulnerable populations in the world, especially in the Global South. And the most severe harms will be borne by future generations. These forms of “climate injustice” raise a host of practical and theoretical problems, some arising within philosophy, others arising within economics.  We explore ways in which discussions of these questions in each of these disciplines may be enriched by importing ideas and methods from the other. Among the “philosophical” questions we ask: What sorts of moral obligations, if any, do individuals in wealthy economies have to constrain their own emissions? Can those obligations be met by offsetting? Are there collective obligations? How can we justly allocate obligations across nations and economic agents? How should we think about harms to, or obligations to, people who do not now exist, because they have not yet been born? Can we have moral obligations to things other than human beings (other species, or ecosystems)? Among the “economic” questions we ask: in calculating the costs and benefits of various policy options, how can we aggregate welfare cross-temporally (including across people who do not exist yet)? Should costs and benefits that accrue in the future be discounted? If so, at what rate? Apart from the harms suffered by persons, should harms suffered by other species, or by ecosystems, count as “costs” in a cost-benefit analysis? Does the fact that carbon is an externality, which generates market inefficiencies, mean that proper pricing of carbon would allow a “sacrifice-free” solution to climate change? Finally, is cost-benefit analysis the right framework in which to think about policy decisions in the face of uncertainty where there are existential risks? Paul Ruud and Jeff Seidman.

Prerequisite(s): One 100-level course in Philosophy or one 100-level course in Economics.

Two 75-minute periods.

Course Format: CLS

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