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Environmental Ethics

Volume 25, Issue 2, Summer 2003

Leslie Pickering Francis
Pages 115-128

Global Systemic Problems and Interconnected Duties

Many problems in environmental ethics are what have been called “global systemic problems,” problems in which what happens in one part of the world affects preservationist efforts elsewhere. Restoration of the Everglades is one such example. If global warming continues, the Everglades may well be flooded within the next quarter to half century and all restoration efforts will be for naught. Yet, the United States government is both pursuing restorationist efforts and withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol on emissions of greenhouse gases. One aspect of global systemic problems concerns whether there are interconnections between the preservationist obligations of the locals and the duties of others. There are three main lines of arguments for concluding that there are, indeed, interconnected obligations in such cases. First, the consequentialist case for imposing duties on locals assumes that others do not have inconsistent consequentialist obligations. In addition, a related consequentialist case can be made that when problems are systemic, others have positive supportive duties. Second, a weak principle of reciprocity supports the interconnectedness of obligations. Insistence that someone has an obligation that benefits you implies the duty not to act to undermine the efforts of that person to fulfill that obligation. Third, a weak principle of fairness—that it is only fair to expect one person to bear the burdens of producing a collective good if others have obligations to do their cooperative part—supports interconnected obligations with regard to global systemic problems. Because all three arguments point to the same conclusion, there is a very strong case for interconnected obligations as part of the solution to global systemic problems—problems that are all too prevalent in our world today.

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