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EXCLUDING JUSTICE

In confronting the global storm, Weisbach proposes excluding whole categories of concern from climate policy (e.g., distributive and corrective justice), even despite their importance to the large emerging economies whose cooperation is essential. This strikes me as unhelpful (e.g., I doubt the political wisdom of saying to India “ ‘feasibility’ means accepting our world view—where you are the problem and your concerns about us are irrelevant”). Notably, it underestimates the extent to which the feasible is political.

Excluding justice is often made to look more plausible by arguments that posit an extreme version of a particular justice concern (e.g., past emissions), make it the sole determinant of climate policy, and then suggest problematic results (such as “some past emitters are currently poor”). However, most approaches to climate ethics are pluralistic in ways that diffuse such worries (e.g., several factors matter, extreme poverty trumps historical responsibility).

In addition, the extreme arguments typically aim to frighten us with numbers, framed as demands for large transfers of cold cash. Yet these numbers are often far from robust, and the demands misleading. For instance, considering past emissions, developing countries should probably be compensated most for the extent to which overconsumption of fossil fuels by developed countries has effectively deprived them of the same opportunity for cheap development. The most relevant costs are therefore opportunity costs. Given this, poor countries might be compensated by richer countries’ facilitating development in other ways (e.g., technology transfers, promoting alternative energy, removing protectionist trade practices). This is very different from handing over lump sums, and likely to be less expensive (e.g., reducing protectionism may be mutually beneficial).

Similarly, even if full compensation turned out to be unrealistic, other cases suggest that substantial reconciliation can still be achieved through partial redress (e.g., the Ngai Tahu settlement in New Zealand). Good faith efforts are better than simply dismissing victims’ claims as “infeasible.”

 
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