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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 19, 2003

Environmental Philosophy as Social Philosophy

Steve Vanderheiden
Pages 89-101

Justice in the Greenhouse
Climate Change and the Idea of Fairness

The current debate surrounding the implementation of the Kyoto Treaty raises several issues that ought to be of interest to social and political philosophers. Proponents and critics alike have invoked ideas of fairness in justification of their positions. The two distinct conceptions of fairness that are involved in this debate—one of fair shares, and another of fair burdens—helpfully illuminate the proper role of fairness in designing an equitable and effective global climate regime. In this paper, I critically examine the idea of fairness as manifest in two contending visions of the proper international response to mounting evidence that human activity is causing climate change, and that harm from this change is likely to exacerbate existing inequalities. In addition, I recommend one idea of fairness (the fair shares conception) and the political program that it implies.

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