Date of Award
Master of Philosophy (MA)
I seek to answer a specific question of justice: namely, how to find an equitable division of the Earth’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gases, here termed as the global carbon sink. The dominant approach to date has been a variation of equal per-capita emissions. My aim is to expand on the Rawlsian legacy by presenting a viable alternative to the dominant approach in the form of an adaptation of Rawls’s difference principle in the form of a climatic difference principle. The climatic difference principle takes the conceptual idea behind the difference principle – of justifying inequalities so long as they result in a compensating benefit for everyone, with a particular concern for the least advantaged – and applying it to the problem of how to divide the global carbon sink.
I begin with a critique of the dominant approach in order rectify the lack of critical scrutiny that the scheme has enjoyed in order to illustrate that the scheme fails for two reasons: first, it violates the ideal that it purports to promote; second, the reasons to support the proposal rest on shallow, rather than deep, reasons alone. Next, I engage in a critique of past attempts to globalize the difference principle, for if it were possible to merely globalize the difference principle, we wouldn’t need a distinct principle to guide emissions allocations.
The climatic difference principle itself takes the distributive outcomes of equal per-capita emissions, as measured on the Human Development Index (HDI), as a baseline to judge alternative schemes. My conjecture is that the way emissions are used will have an effect on the amount of net benefits that we can derive per unit of the global carbon sink. Shares of the global carbon sink can be used more or less efficiently, and incentives in the form of a greater share of the sink will spur technological innovation. However, Rawls was correct to insist that the most efficient scheme is not necessarily just.
A division of the global sink is considered just if we can compensate everyone (in particular the least advantaged) for accepting an unequal share. Specifically, when judged by improvements from the baseline created by the distributive outcomes of equal per-capita emissions, as measured on the Human Development Index (HDI). In order to realize the distributive obligations of the climatic difference principle, a green-technology transfer program will be advanced along with other forms of aid and compensation.
Smolenski, Philip, "The Climatic Difference Principle" (2012). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7517.
McMaster University Library