Ethics and Climate

Donald Brown

Ethics and Climate - Donald Brown

A Picture To Help Citizens Understand the Justice and Equity Issues That Must Be Faced in Setting National GHG Emissions Targets.

 All nations, when they set national ghg emissions reductions targets, are implicitly taking a position on the following two civilization challenging ethical issues. The international community should require that all nations explicitly explain their positions on these two issues.

Bathtub revised 1pptx

Every national ghg emissions reduction target is implicitly a position on the two above civilization challenging ethical issues, although nations almost never identify the positions they have taken on these issues nor acknowledge that these are ethical matters. These issues are: (1) a ghg atmospheric concentration stabilization goal, and (2) the nation’s fair share of global ghg emissions that will achieve the atmospheric goal.  This picture seeks to help citizens understand these issues. Both of these issues are essentially ethical and moral issues.  This is so because in taking a position on an ghg atmospheric stabilization goal, a nation is determining how much harm it is willing to inflict on hundreds of millions of poor vulnerable people around the world and the ecological systems on which life depends. Also, in specifying a ghg emissions reduction amount, the nation is also taking a position on what distributive justice requires of it to reduce global ghg emissions to safe levels.

Governments should be required to explain their positions on these issues because every national ghg emissions reduction target is implicitly a position on these ethical questions.


Donald A. Brown

Scholar In Residence and Professor,

Widener University School of Law





  • richard pauli says:

    Succinctly described – excellent point.

    We should pay attention to the atmospheric bathtub analogy because it helps understand the severity of the conundrum. We don’t just need to halt the increase in ghgs – we have to turn it around into a reduction. More than ASAP, too.

    Keep in mind that
    the amount of CO2 global absorption is 3.1 GtC/y – so we have to get below that level… instead we are outputting double that at 7.2 GtC/y.

    A proper goal that is jinxed by the looming deadline. Recent sea level rise observations mean we should properly return CO2 levels to 280ppm.

    This effectively means we should halt all forms of ghg emissions… somehow that has an ethical simplicity to it… although it is such a difficult to attain goal.

    May 16, 2014 at 3:45 am
  • John Hedstrom says:

    Excellent graphic! You plainly show the gross unfairness of ignoring our responsibility to lessen our pollution. You are obviously on the right track to solving the climate change problem. Thanks for your strong advocacy. If only enough people would listen and take action…

    May 17, 2014 at 2:51 pm
  • Evan Guthrie says:

    Good infographic to help people understand the justice and equity issues involved in the discussion.

    June 2, 2014 at 11:37 am

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