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Ethics and Climate Change

Siebel Energy Grand Challenges Lecture Series Spring 2009

An interdisciplinary group of scholars examined the ethical dimensions of the challenge presented by climate change in this fall Siebel Energy Grand Challenges Lecture Series entitled "Ethics and Climate Change." This five-part series was sponsored by PEI and the University Center for Human Values.

Martin Bunzl

"Them and Us: Reflections on Carbon Output in the Developing World"

Discussant: Michael Oppenheimer

Feb. 19, 2009
Betts Auditorium, Architecture Building, 4:30-6 p.m.


Recent studies project that Developing World carbon output will be large enough to create a climate crisis in and of itself by mid-century - irrespective of actions by the Developed World. In this talk I will examine the implications of this claim for the terms in which debates about climate are usually posed. I argue that a simple per capita allocation is an unlikely formula for success even if it is prima facie fair.


Martin Bunzl is Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University where he directs the Initiative on Climate and Social Policy – a joint program of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, the School of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. Bunzl is the author of two books: The Context of Explanation and Real History, as well as numerous scholarly articles that lie at the intersection of science and philosophy. He recently co-edited "Buying Freedom: The Ethics and Economics of Slave Redemption" (with Anthony Appiah) published by Princeton University Press in 2007. With Alan Robock and others he is currently examining the experimental methodology and ethics of geoengineering.

Robert O. Keohane

"Evaluating Climate Change Institutions: Justice or Legitimacy?"

Feb. 24, 2009

Betts Auditorium, Architecture Building, 4:30-6 p.m.

Discussant: Charles R. Beitz
Professor of Politics, Princeton University


Discussions of ethics and climate change often focus on issues of justice. With respect to the ethics of climate change institutions, however, justice is the wrong lens. Since institutions in world politics are shaped by interests and power, they uniformly fail to meet any universal standards of justice. Differences between various theories of justice are immaterial for policy decisions, since actual institutional procedures and outputs fall short of the standards that any coherent theories would prescribe. For practical policy analysis, it is more important to focus on legitimacy than justice. For an institution to be legitimate means that it is worthy of our obedience within its sphere of activity. Legitimacy is a lower standard than justice, but still provides a meaningful ethical benchmark, and adequate legitimacy should be a necessary condition to support multilateral institutions. A cap-and-trade architecture, with compliance arrangements involving buyer liability, provides the best way of building climate institutions that are both legitimate and effective.


Robert Koehan is Professor of International Affairs, Princeton University. He is the author of After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (1984) and Power and Governance in a Partially Globalized World (2002). He is co-author (with Joseph S. Nye, Jr.) of Power and Interdependence (third edition 2001), and (with Gary King and Sidney Verba) of Designing Social Inquiry (1994). He has served as the editor of International Organization and as president of the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association. He won the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, 1989, and the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science, 2005. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences.

Daniel Schrag

"Engineering Our Way Out of a Climate Catastrophe"

March 3, 2009
Betts Auditorium, Architecture Building, 4:30-6 p.m.

Discussant: Dale Jamieson, Environmental Studies Program, New York University


Professor Daniel Schrag studies climate and climate change over the broadest range of Earth history. He has examined changes in ocean circulation over the last several decades, with particular attention to El Niño and the tropical Pacific. He has worked on theories for Pleistocene ice-age cycles including a better determination of ocean temperatures during the Last Glacial Maximum, 20,000 years ago.

Dan also helped develop the Snowball Earth hypothesis, proposing that a series of global glaciations occurred between 750 and 580 million years ago that may have led to the evolution of multicellular animals. Currently he is working with economists and engineers on technological approaches to mitigating future climate change.

David Schlosberg

"Climate Justice and the Capabilities Approach: The Flourishing of Human and Non-Human Communities"

April 7, 2009
Betts Auditorium, Architecture Building, 4:30-6 p.m.

Discussant: Stephen Pacala


Climate justice is a growing field of inquiry, and yet one that is unnecessarily limited in scope. Most authors who have addressed climate justice focus on conceptions of equity, and in particular inequity between existing human populations or between existing and future generations of human beings. I argue that there are key limitations in much of this literature, and that the issue of climate change necessitates a much more broad understanding of climate justice. The thesis here is that the capabilities approach, developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum and expanded in key ways, can be applied to a conception of climate justice. This approach enables a notion of climate justice that is applicable to the impacts of climate change on both human and non-human individuals and communities. This capabilities-based conception of climate justice will be compared to the demands of the climate justice movement. These groups often articulate justice in terms of demands for community capabilities, functioning, and social reproduction. Climate justice groups already illustrate the way that a capabilities approach can be applied to human communities and ecological systems.


David Schlosberg is the Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Visiting Professor in the Environment and Humanities at Princeton University for Spring 2009. He is Professor of Politics and International Affairs, and Director of the Environmental Studies Program, at Northern Arizona University. Professor Schlosberg is known nationally and internationally for his work in environmental political theory, environmental justice, and environmental movements. He has taught at the London School of Economics, has been Fulbright Senior Scholar in the Social and Political Theory Program at Australian National University, and is a Fellow of the Centre for Research in Environmental Action and Thought at Keele University in the UK. Schlosberg's books include Environmental Justice and the New Pluralism (Oxford 1999), Green States and Social Movements (Oxford 2003, co-authored with John Dryzek, Christian Hunold, and David Downes), Debating the Earth: The Environmental Politics Reader (Oxford 1998, 2nd edition 2005, co-edited with John Dryzek), Defining Environmental Justice (Oxford 2007), and, most recently, Environmentalism in the United States (Routledge 2009, co-edited with Elizabeth Bomberg). He is currently co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society.

Robyn Eckersley

"The Ethics of Carbon Trading"

April 21, 2009
Betts Auditorium, Architecture Building, 5-6:30 p.m.

Discussant: Robert Socolow


Carbon trading schemes have emerged as the white knight of climate change policy at the international and national levels. Such schemes have been widely defended as more flexible than carbon taxes or prescriptive regulation because they promote least-cost solutions for any desired level of emissions reductions. However, their ethical credentials are more dubious. This lecture will assess carbon trading schemes from the standpoint of environmental justice and argue that they leave much to be desired because they enable the maintenance of carbon polluting practices, high consumption life-styles, and the postponement of deep structural changes in developed countries while increasing the costs of transition to a low carbon economy by developing countries.


Robyn Eckersley is a Professor and Head of Political Science in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. She has published widely in the fields of environmental politics and policy, political theory and international relations. Her books include Environmentalism and Political Theory (1992); Markets, the State and the Environment: Towards Integration (1995) (as editor); The Green State: Rethinking Democracy and Sovereignty (2004); The State and the Global Ecological Crisis (2005, as co-editor) and Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge (2006, as co-editor). She is on the Editorial Advisory Boards of Environmental Politics; Environmental Value; Ethics and International Affairs; Ethics, Place and Environment; Global Change, Peace and Security; Global Environmental Politics; International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development; International Theory: A Journal of International Politics, Law and Philosophy; Journal of International Political Theory; New Political Economy; and Organisation and Environment. From 1995-2005 she served as a Member of the Hazardous Waste Technical Working Group, a statutory committee advising the Commonwealth Minister on Australia's obligations under the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste. Her current research focuses on climate policy, with a special focus on the international climate change negotiations, the justice implications of carbon trading schemes, and the relationship between the World Trade Organisation and the climate change regime. She was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences of Australia in 2007.