Let's Be Rational: A 'Fair Share' Approach to Individual Carbon Emissions

Much has been said about the moral obligations of states and industries to curb their carbon emissions. It might seem that such arguments would entail a corollary obligation for us, as individuals, to curb our own personal emissions. However, it is much harder to make a case for this than it first seems.

So far, three main approaches have been presented in the literature — none of which, I contend, is entirely satisfying. My intention here is not to refute these approaches, but to present a fourth way: one that avoids the problems with its three alternatives, and — I argue — better captures our moral intuitions regarding what kinds of obligations we have as individuals given the current climate crisis.

I contend that carbon emissions are best thought of as a scarce communal resource, and — as with other scarce resources such as a food, water, or medical supplies — are best suited to the adoption of a rationing approach. I argue that since most of us have already consumed our lifetime fair share of carbon emissions, we each have a compelling reason to minimise our personal emissions in any way possible going forward.

This seminar is proudly hosted by Philosophy, School of Humanities & Languages. For more information, please email Heikki Ikaheimo.


Daniel Burkett is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Climate Justice stream of the Practical Justice Initiative. Daniel completed a law degree and a Masters in Philosophy at Victoria University of Wellington, followed by a doctorate in philosophy from Rice University in Houston. His dissertation presents a novel agreement-based argument for the moral permissibility of punishment, and considers what this argument might mean for our current punishment institutions. Daniel’s current research interests are primarily in applied ethics and social and political philosophy - particularly where those subjects intersect with issues of state policy.

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