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EFFICIENCY BLINDERS

Weisbach rejects any claim of justice that goes beyond what is “cost-effective” in reducing emissions. Yet this seems one-sided: rejecting justice can also make reductions more expensive (e.g., if, under International Paretianism, Bangladesh must pay off the big emitters). Worse, the rhetoric encourages “efficiency blinders.” The ultimate point of climate policy is not elimination of emissions for its own sake, but protecting people and the rest of nature. Requiring poor farmers to compromise their fragile subsistence because it “costs less” than the rich forgoing a few luxuries risks forgetting this.

Notably, recognizing climate justice need not involve a commitment to righting all the world’s wrongs through climate policy. While some may hope to open the door to a dramatically new world order (a vanguard model), others aim merely for modest improvements in areas that intersect with climate (a mild rectification model), or at not worsening wider injustice (a neutrality model). In my view, discussion of the relative merits of these models is an important topic in the ethics of the transition. Unfortunately, requiring the most vulnerable to pay in the name of “efficiency” seems in tension with all of them.

Of course, Weisbach is strangely hostile to the ethics of the transition, dismissing anything short of a “complete background understanding of international justice” as unphilosophical hand-waving. Yet this strikes me as unreasonable (especially within a theoretical storm), and also uncharitable to those of a less radically cosmopolitan bent (e.g., proponents of institutional conceptions of international justice, who want to improve the world, proceeding from where we are).

 
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