Date of Award

Spring 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Elisabeth Gedge




Recent discussions on global climate change have brought to our attention the largely disruptive influence of human activity on the planet and its inhabitants. Moral philosophers have added to the discourse their concerns about the unprecedented environmental problem of global climate change which threatens, and increasingly so, human welfare and the stability of the planet. The circumstances should be of concern to all, including philosophers who beyond their own endeavours will be affected by climate change. There are good reasons to think that the circumstances surrounding global climate change are morally repugnant and that serious action is required to avert global catastrophe and widespread suffering.

Our discussion will draw attention to the ethical dimensions of climate change given present knowledge about the state of the global environment and human welfare across the planet, now and into foreseeable future. My aims in this paper are twofold. First, I will provide a survey of various arguments that fit under the umbrella of climate change ethics as a way to gauge their suitability to address the wider issues that should be of concern to us. Second, by seeking to refute these arguments on a number of theoretical grounds, I will make the case that the climate change problem is best understood through a welfarist lens. Climate change is fundamentally a problem of distributive justice for present and future generations and, as such, it is of great urgency to protect human welfare over the long run.

The main argument begins in the first chapter with an overview of climate change against the backdrop of existing realities. We will take a look at the economics and science of climate change to gain a better understanding of issue, namely its origins and implications for the planet across space and time. In subsequent chapters, we defer to a variety of principles of global and intergenerational justice which are thought to offer moral guidance for the successful resolution of the climate change problem. Having concluded in the third chapter that we must focus on considerations of distributive justice, indeed those that are ultimately but not only utilitarian, the final chapter explores the appropriateness of various mechanisms and systems which would constitute a fair global climate regime.

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