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Über dieses Buch

This book discusses the agency and responsibility of individuals in climate change, and argues that these are underemphasized, enabling individuals to maintain their consumptive lifestyles without having to accept moral responsibility for their luxury emissions.



1. Introduction

This chapter introduces the key issue addressed in this book, namely the fact that, even though climate change constitutes a severe threat to humankind, response to it is characterized by inaction at all levels. Hence, the severity of climate change and its consequences does not appear to sufficiently motivate people to tackle it. There are two complementary explanations for this motivational gap: first, our moral judgement system might be unable to identify the complex problem of climate change as an important moral problem; and second, people can employ psychological mechanisms of moral disengagement, which allow them to evade individual responsibility for the consequences of their materialistic pursuits. The main aim of this book is to expand upon the second explanation.
Wouter Peeters, Andries De Smet, Lisa Diependaele, Sigrid Sterckx

2. Climate Change, Human Rights and Moral Responsibility

This chapter sketches the problems of climate change and allocation of the responsibility for tackling it. In view of the threats to key human rights posed by observed and projected climatic changes, climate change is conceptualized as a moral harm. We explore how the burdens involved in remedying the problem should be allocated, focusing on the principle of moral responsibility that plays a central role in common-sense morality. The responsibilities of individual emitters have been underestimated because important doubts exist about the agency of individuals in complex global dynamics such as climate change. We contrast this view with the observation that people can psychologically reconstruct their contribution to climate change, in order to evade moral responsibility for it.
Wouter Peeters, Andries De Smet, Lisa Diependaele, Sigrid Sterckx

3. The Phenomenology of Agency in Climate Change

Most objections against holding individual emitters responsible for climate change are closely related to the characteristic way in which people experience themselves as agents with causal powers. Within this phenomenology of agency, acts have primacy over omissions; near effects have primacy over remote effects; and individual effects have primacy over group effects. We describe how these features affect our thinking about individual responsibility for climate change and argue that the predominant characterization of climate change as a matter of omissions, remote effects and group effects is deceitful. Arguments along these lines do not convincingly exonerate individual emitters from moral responsibility for their luxury emissions; although the complexity of climate change undeniably challenges our moral judgement system, it also provides a convenient opportunity for moral disengagement.
Wouter Peeters, Andries De Smet, Lisa Diependaele, Sigrid Sterckx

4. Understanding the Motivational Gap

This chapter explores two complementary explanations for the motivational gap. We argue that the first explanation — referring to the inadequacy of our moral framework to capture climate change as an important moral problem — remains incomplete, since individuals can effectively be identified as morally responsible for their luxury emissions. Second, the complexity of climate change and doubts about individual agency are overly emphasized, enabling emitters to act out of self-interest. Through the influence of the prevailing liberal-capitalist worldview, self-interested pursuits have become equated with wealth accumulation and consumption. Climate change challenges the inviolable status conferred to these materialistic freedoms, requiring emitters to resort to moral disengagement in order to be able to maintain a consumptive lifestyle without having to accept moral responsibility for the resultant harms.
Wouter Peeters, Andries De Smet, Lisa Diependaele, Sigrid Sterckx

5. Addressing the Motivational Gap and Tackling Moral Disengagement

In this chapter, we tentatively suggest some strategies to increase emitters’ motivation to accept moral responsibility for the consequences of their luxury emissions, and to accordingly acknowledge their remedial responsibility for tackling climate change. First, emitters’ motivation can be increased by enhancing their moral judgement on the basis of common-sense morality, or by invoking alternative moral values. Second, the motivational force of the underlying reasons for deploying mechanisms of moral disengagement can be reduced by encouraging people to evaluate and redefine their self-interested motives or by addressing the perceived demandingness of morality. Third, we argue that the propensity for moral disengagement should itself be tackled as well.
Wouter Peeters, Andries De Smet, Lisa Diependaele, Sigrid Sterckx

6. Conclusion

In addition to highlighting the main conclusions of our discussion in the preceding chapters, we emphasize that the lack of a more robust approach regarding people’s rights and responsibilities does not imply that we are unable to make any judgement at all. On the basis of moral responsibility for their luxury emissions, emitters can at least be assigned remedial responsibility for climate change. The arguments usually invoked to support exoneration from moral responsibility correspond to strategies of moral disengagement, enabling consumption elites to maintain their consumptive lifestyle without having to accept moral responsibility for the resultant harms. Finally, we provide an overview of strategies for addressing the motivational gap and tackling moral disengagement.
Wouter Peeters, Andries De Smet, Lisa Diependaele, Sigrid Sterckx


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