Date of Award

12-2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

Philosophy

Major Professor

John Nolt

Committee Members

E. J. Coffman, David Reidy

Abstract

Anthropogenic global climate change (GCC), understood as changes to the Earth’s climate system resulting from greenhouse gas emissions caused by human beings, has emerged as one of the most pressing environmental problems in human history. Proposed responses to climate change typically focus on either mitigation or adaptation. Mitigation refers to the process of lessening the effects of GCC, most often by reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases. Adaptation refers to the process of helping those who will be adversely affected by GCC adapt to the environmental changes to avoid being harmed. There is, however, a third approach to the issue that has been unduly neglected in the literature: compensation. This approach focuses on what we can give to the victims of climate change to rectify the wrongful harms they have endured (or will endure). Since it is no longer possible to prevent all the adverse effects of climate change, compensation will be a vital part of any satisfactory global response to it, even one that pursued mitigation and adaptation to the fullest extent possible and began immediately.

Beyond addressing general questions about the compensatory duties generated by climate change, I consider whether knowledge transmission between generations can serve as a suitable form of intergenerational compensation and how it relates to other possible forms of intergenerational compensation. Ultimately, I defend five main claims. First, we have duties to compensate future people for the harms caused by GCC. Second, the transmission of knowledge from the current generation to future generations is a suitable means of compensating future people for the rights violations caused by GCC. Third, we cannot provide sufficient compensation to nullify the harms caused by GCC. Fourth, despite initial appearances to the contrary, striving to meet compensatory duties through intergenerational transfer of knowledge would not be irrelevant from the standpoint of public policy; pursuing these duties would carry great practical significance. Fifth, duties of compensation should be undertaken primarily by the richer, developed nations, especially those that have historically contributed the most to GCC.

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