Volume 40, Issue 2, April 2014
Climate Justice and Temporally Remote Emissions
Many suggest that we should look backward and measure the differences among various parties’ past emissions of greenhouse gases to allocate moral responsibility to remedy climate change. Such backward-looking approaches face two key objections: that previous emitters were unaware of the consequences of their actions, and that the emitters who should be held responsible have disappeared. I assess several arguments that try to counter these objections: the argument from strict liability, arguments that the beneficiary of harmful or unjust emissions should pay, and arguments from distributive justice. I argue that none of these successfully justify a backward-looking approach to the temporally remote portion of the climate burden.