Climate Change Mitigation and Imperfect Duties

When assessing responsibility for climate change scholars are increasingly convinced by
holding collectives responsible as individuals make no perceptible contribution to the
problem (Broome 2012 is a notable exception). Collectives, both ‘structured’ (e.g. high emitting states) and ‘unstructured’ (e.g. the global rich), are primarily identified as
responsible. When responsibility resides at the collective level, corresponding individual
duties are primarily to encourage the collective to act (Cripps 2011; 2013). ‘Mimicking’
duties to reduce one’s own emission are less demanding and far less important. This
harmony with common understandings of causation and responsibility is purchased at the
cost of vague or imperfect obligations. We must petition the collective to act, but how
does one do this? What actions fulfil this duty? Signing a letter? Marching? Civil
disobedience? Am I obliged to do the empirically most effective action? What policies
should I petition in favour of? And, to whom should I devote all this attention?

This litany of questions is in stark contrast to green activism where we are encouraged to
all to ‘do our bit’ by reducing our own emissions. This simple message has some purchase,whereas admitting the indeterminacy of our individual obligations runs the risk of
practical paralysis for those with good intentions. Ultimately, individuals must undertake
the central burden in understanding how they are best placed to petition the collective to
act. There is no universal manifesto. But individual deliberation is mediated by the
political landscape. The interaction between our imperfect individual duties and political
structures is something theorists can provide guidance on. We must clarify this interaction
in both directions: (i) how might political structures be designed/amended to aid the
performance of imperfect duties? And, (ii) how might performance of imperfect duties be
moderated by circumstance?

Some of the questions in that space are as follows, but contributors are invited to raise
their own.
• Can the law be legitimately harnessed to enforce individual agent emission
reductions in performance of collective duties?
• Does my duty to petition the collective presuppose an ideal theory of participatory
democracy? If so, does such a democracy exist (or could it exist)?
• Am I under a duty to speak, or a duty to be heard?
• If I meet my duty to petition the collective to act, but keep on emitting, am I
respecting the rights of future persons?
• To whom should petitioning be focused? Does a philosophical understanding of
‘corporate agents’ help us to understand to whom we should direct our attention?
• Am I under a duty to ignore the perfect, in pursuit of the good?

Adam Pearce
Livia Luzzatto