3 years ago

Responsible for what? Carbon producer CO 2 contributions and the energy transition

Henry Shue


Judgments of moral responsibility should be informed by both scientific analysis and societal standards. Society distinguishes responsibilities into positive and negative, general and special, and backward-looking and forward-looking. Ekwurzel et al. in Clim Chang 2017 shows that 90 major carbon producers have contributed most of the atmospheric CO2 emissions. Once it became clear no later than the 1960s that continuing CO2 emissions would progressively undermine the climate, the major carbon producers could see that they were marketing harmful products. The simple and merely negative responsibility to “do no harm” required them to reduce that harm rapidly either by modifying the product in order to capture its dangerous emissions or by developing safe substitutes to perform the same function, that is, by developing non-carbon-based forms of energy. The seriousness of the harms brought by climate change made this responsibility especially compelling. Ceasing to contribute to harm includes ending exploration for additional fossil fuels. The half century of failure by corporate carbon producers to reduce the harms caused by their products now gives them additional responsibility to correct the damage done by their decades of neglect of the underlying negative responsibility. If major carbon producers also wish to fulfill the general responsibility to make more than a minimal positive social contribution, their distinctive capacities of political power, wealth, and expertise qualify them for leadership in the transition to an energy regime that would be safe for future generations to rely on.

Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-017-2042-9

DOI: 10.1007/s10584-017-2042-9

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