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Workshop on Climate Ethics 2017-06-15

In the face of human induced climate change, the field of climate ethics has necessarily emerged. The aim of this workshop is to gather researchers with a shared academic interest in climate ethics to discuss various aspects of climate ethics, such as climate justice, policy analysis, and risk philosophy.


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Please note that space is limited and that registration therefore is binding! The workshop is free and open for all.

Keynote speaker:

Edward Page,
University of Warwick

Addressing losses and damages arising from climate change


Anna Wedin,
KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Ethical adaptation to rising sea levels

Eric Brandstedt,
Lund University

Hard vs. Soft Theories of Climate Justice

Jasmina Nedevska Törnqvist,
Stockholm University

The Non-Identity Problem and Future People’s Environment

Olle Torpman,
Stockholm University

Libertarianism, Collective Action, and Climate Change


Edward Page, University of Warwick

Addressing losses and damages arising from climate change

Climate change, by damaging the quality of life of populations already suffering from acute vulnerability and hardship, has the potential to cause serious harm to existing and future generations. Populations located in the developing world, due to their heightened physical and socio-economic vulnerability, are most vulnerable to such harm.

Some of these harms will occur in the future if they are not prevented, some will inevitably arise in the future because they cannot (or will not) be prevented, while other harms are linked to climate changes that have already occurred. Where the experience of such harms (which are referred to as ‘losses and damages’ in the UNFCCC system) goes beyond what is reasonable for an individual or group to to bear, a serious injustice will arise. This paper explores some key normative puzzles raised by the new ethics of ‘loss and damage’. In particular, the seminar focuses on which normative principles should guide measures seeking to address losses and damages experienced by populations residing in developing states and how (if at all) new forms of policy can be designed that respect these principles.

Anna Wedin, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Ethical adaptation to rising sea levels

While there is much uncertainty on how much, there is a scientific consensus that global warming causes the global mean sea level to rise. We can already see the effects and have reason to believe that this will lead to great challenges for the large share of the world’s population that lives by the coast. In order to cope, our societies will have to adapt to rising sea levels, but this will be challenging since it requires unusually long planning horizons, is surrounded by many uncertainties, and poses novel ethical challenges.

In this talk I will present the research project Sustainable and Ethical Adaptation to Rising Mean Sea Levels (SEA-RIMS) which investigates the ethics of sea level rise in a Swedish context. In workshops with governmental agents and representatives from municipalities we have identified consequences that might follow from adapting to rising sea levels. This will serve as input to an ethical inventory and analysis. So far it is clear that adaptation to sea level rise will give rise to: distributive issues, such as how limited resources should be allocated; value issues, such as how far we should go to protect e.g. cultural heritage in face of rising sea levels; temporal issues, such as how risks and benefits should be distributed over time; and, epistemic issues, such as what knowledge should be represented in decision-making on adaptation to sea level rise.

Eric Brandstedt, Lund University

Hard vs. Soft Theories of Climate Justice

In this paper, I draw a distinction between two kinds of climate justice: hard and soft theories (cf. Elster 1992, pp. 189ff). The discussion concerns the fair distribution of the costs and benefits of dealing with climate change. A hard theory is a supposedly justified general moral theory, such as utilitarianism, which is applied to (some part of) the normative dimension of climate change (let the chips fall where they may). A soft theory, on the other hand, is sensitive to judgments about the particular case, and so contextual and (probably) domain-specific, e.g. the polluter pays principle.

Similar distinctions have been discussed in the past, by e.g. Ed Page (2008) and Simon Caney (2012). But here, I will give it a more focused treatment. I will make use of a
general methodology for normative theorising (following List and Valentini 2016) to develop the discussion of the choices that must be made in accounting for the normative dimension of climate change. I will define a ‘normative theory’ as a set of ‘ought’ statements (in the form ‘you ought to Φ’) or permissibility verdicts (‘action a is permissible in context c’), which can be derived from some underlying set of normative principles. Different theories have different roles, e.g. to describe, explain, or predict. A normative theory should prescribe the actions that ought/ought not be taken in a specified context. Roughly speaking, a theory of climate justice should thus prescribe the actions ought/ ought not be taken in the context of climate change. With this, one can better represent the difference between these two kinds of climate justice: it primarily concerns the role of intuitions about particular cases in the justificatory process (but also cuts across the function and scope of the theory in question).

The paper has two aims: to clarify the methodological ground for theorising about climate justice and to discuss some of the implications thereof. I present two cautionary notes about hard theories of climate justice: (1) if reasonable moral pluralism prevails (a plausible assumption in the climate context), then separating questions of application from those of justification (as suggested by hard theories) is problematic; furthermore (2) the repudiation of judgments about particular cases in the process of justification (as suggested by hard theories) may lead to neglect of contextual features that matter to a fair response to climate change.


Caney, S. ‘Just Emissions’. Philosophy & Public Affairs 40 4 (2012): 255-300.

Elster, J. Local Justice. How Institutions Allocate Scarce Goods and Necessary Burdens (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1992).

List, C. and L. Valentini. ‘The Methodology of Political Theory’. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical
Eds. H. Cappelen, T. Szabó Gendler and J. Hawthorne.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Page, E. ‘Distributing the Burdens of Climate Change’. Environmental Politics 17 4 (2008): 556-575

Jasmina Nedevska Törnqvist, Stockholm University

The Non-Identity Problem and Future People’s Environment

Do we have duties regarding the quality of future people’s lives? The non-identity problem, formulated most famously by Derek Parfit, puts that in question. This has implications for environmental ethics, as it is commonly supposed that we should leave a sustainable environment for future people.

In this work, I identify two different intuitions that guide formulations of the non-identity problem. According to the wrongdoing-intuition, it is morally wrong to leave future generations with an unsustainable environment. According to the objectionability intuition, it is at least morally objectionable to leave future generations with an unsustainable environment. While the former intuition is more commonly stated, the latter is more fundamental and should be acknowledged. Our failure to conclude in line with the latter intuition renders the non-identity problem (even) worse.

Second, I identify four general ways of dealing with the non-identity problem, on any formulation. While there is a tendency among non-identity scholars to simply speak of a ”solution” to the problem, there are several approaches one may take. I suggest the labels asserting, avoiding, solving (in a focal sense) and dissolvingthe problem. While the latter two are preferable approaches, I show that such efforts in contemporary ethics so far seem to fail. I discuss contractualist efforts to solve the problem, utilitarian efforts to dissolve it, as well as a possible new avenue for dissolving the non-identity problem.

Olle Torpman, Stockholm University

Libertarianism, Collective Action, and Climate Change

Libertarianism in an example of an individualist moral theory: It ascribes moral rights and duties basically to individual people. For this reason, libertarianism might seem to have troubles answering questions concerning collective action and shared wrongdoing. This is relevant to libertarianism’s implications regarding climate change, since climate change is caused by our joint emissions of greenhouse gases. Could libertarianism at all condemn our joint activities that give rise to climate change?

Indeed, libertarianism’s individualist stance yields no moral relevance to any collective action per se. In case there is any morally relevant collective action at all, libertarianism implies that this is reducible to individuals’ actions. Hence, there is no morally relevant collective action over and above the actions of the individual members of those collectives. In order to be capable of accounting for the wrongness of joint activities, libertarians will thus have to focus on the individuals’ participations in collective activities.

In this talk, I will discuss by what means libertarians could argue that individuals act wrongly when participating in joint activities that cause climate change. I will argue that libertarianism yields an individual’s participation in collective wrongdoings impermissible whenever the individual (i) agrees to bear responsibility for such activities, (ii)contributes causally to the outcomes of these activities, or (iii) implicitly authorizes these activities. This is highly relevant to climate change. First, it implies some general libertarian restrictions on how people may vote, eat, consume, live, etc. Second, it yields libertarianism means for judging individual acts wrong independently of their causal efficaciousness to climate change. Third, it gives external parties the permissibility to intervene in order to stop joint activities that contribute to climate change.

More detailed information about the venue and schedule will follow shortly.