Ethical Obligations for Climate Change Mitigation

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For several decades, the scientific community has issued increasingly forceful warnings about the dangers of anthropogenic global warming resulting from emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses (GHGs). In recent years, climate activists have also become more vocal in characterizing the failure of the global community to reduce emissions as a serious ethical breach that must quickly be rectified. Nevertheless, emissions continue to increase. It seems clear that there remain critical constituencies who do not perceive an urgent need or acknowledge an ethical obligation to implement stronger measures to mitigate climate change. In this article, I argue that (1) a strong ethical obligation to reduce emissions of CO2 and other GHGs can be derived from a few widely accepted ethical principles and (2) broader recognition of this ethical obligation can help overcome impediments to collective action. I also seek to show that arguments commonly made in opposition to stronger climate change mitigation efforts do not withstand ethical review. Finally, I discuss policy, business, and personal implications of accepting an ethical obligation to reduce climate altering GHG emissions.