Climate change and conflicts between generations

by BuryCoal on July 22, 2011

in Climate change, Economics, Ethics, International relations

“The second reason behind Kyoto’s failure is its intergenerational aspect. Most analyses describe the climate-change problem in intra-generational, game-theoretic terms, as a prisoner’s dilemma or battle-of-the-sexes problem. But I have argued that the more important dimension of climate change may be its intergenerational aspect. Roughly speaking, the point is that climate change is caused primarily by fossil-fuel use. Burning fossil fuel has two main consequences: on the one hand, it produces substantial benefits through the production of energy; on the other hand, it exposes humanity to the risk of large, and perhaps catastrophic, costs from climate change. But these costs and benefits accrue to different groups: the benefits arise primarily in the short to medium term and so are received by the present generation, but the costs fall largely in the long term, on future generations. This suggests a worrying scenario. For one thing, as long as high energy use is (or is perceived to be) strongly connected to self-interest, the present generation will have strong egoistic reasons to ignore the worst aspects of climate change. For another, this problem is iterated: it arises anew for each subsequent generation as it gains the power to decide whether or not to act. This suggests that the global-warming problem has a seriously tragic structure. I have argued that it is this background fact that most readily explains the Kyoto debacle.”

Gardiner, Stephen M. “Ethics and Global Climate Change.” (p. 21 paperback) in Gardiner, Stephen M. et al. eds. Climate Ethics: Essential Readings. Oxford University Press. 2010.

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Byron Smith July 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I’ve just picked up Gardiner’s new-ish book A Perfect Moral Storm: The ethical tragedy of climate change. I’m looking forward to reading it sometime soon.

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