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Monday, January 05, 2015

Cosmopolitan Ethics

Some time ago, I read World Ethics and Climate Change: From International to Global Justice, by Paul Harris. (Edinburgh University Press, 2009. Here is Columbia University Press's page on the book.) 

The book is pretty well summarized by its title.

A concept that I was not familiar with is cosmopolitan ethics.

Harris says, correctly, that so far, international efforts (if that's the word) to stop climate change have been feeble, at best. One reason is that developed countries, such as the US, don't want to take the brunt of efforts to bring emission of greenhouse gases down. Another is that developing countries, such as China, don't want to stop development, and wish to go down the same road as the developed countries, becoming, if anything, even worse polluters than we are. And then there are the undeveloped countries, who wish to join the developing and developed countries. There are other reasons, of course. It's a complex issue, requiring unprecedented international cooperation.

Cosmopolitan ethics is a scheme that would hold individuals, as well as countries, responsible for their actions. Harris says that there are hundreds of millions of people, all over the world, who are as affluent, as polluting, as upper middle-class and wealthy people living in North America. Why should they be allowed to go on living as they are, with no immediate consequences to their actions? On the other hand, why should poor North Americans be penalized for actions that they haven't taken?

The idea seems fair enough. Harris also claims that adopting it would allow a re-thinking of attempts to limit the emission of greenhouse gases, so that countries could come to enforceable, effective agreements. Maybe so. I don't have a lot of hope. As I say, it's a complex issue.

Thanks for reading.

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