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Environmental Ethics

Volume 43, Issue 1, Spring 2021

Dan Shahar
Pages 3-20

Harm, Responsibility, and the Far-off Impacts of Climate Change

Climate change is already a major global threat, but many of its worst impacts are still decades away. Many people who will eventually be affected by it still have opportunities to mitigate harm. When considering the avoidable burdens of climate change, it seems plausible victims will often share some responsibility for putting themselves into (or failing to get out of) harm’s way. This fact should be incorporated into our thinking about the ethical significance of climate-induced harms, particularly to emphasize the importance of differential abilities to get and stay out of harm’s way. Currently, many people face serious obstacles to reducing their vulnerability to climate change, such as poverty, lack of education, and political or legal obstacles to mobility. Climate policy discussions should do more to emphasize the alleviation of these sources of difficulties, thereby empowering people to choose what risks they will bear in a warming world.

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