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Environmental Values

Climate Change and Individual Responsibility: A Reply to Johnson

Marion Hourdequin

Environmental Values 20 (2011): 157-162. doi: 10.3197/096327111X12997574391643


Can unilateral action be an effective response to global climate change? Baylor Johnson worries that a focus on unilateral action by individuals will detract from efforts to secure collective agreements to address the problem. Although Johnson and I agree that individuals have some obligation to reduce their personal emissions, we differ in the degree to which we see personal reductions as effective in spurring broader change. I argue that 'unilateral reductions' can have communicative value and that they can change the structure of collective action problems, making such problems easier to solve. Since collective action problems are much less tractable where individuals abide by the tenets of traditional game theory and much more tractable where individuals are oriented to cooperate and to trust that others will reciprocate, we need moral norms that promote individual restraint in exploitation of the commons, and we ought ourselves to abide by those norms.


Climate change, collective action, moral obligation, tragedy of the commons, unilateral action

REFERENCES to other articles in Environmental Values:

Ethical Obligations in a Tragedy of the Commons. Baylor L. Johnson
Climate, Collective Action and Individual Ethical Obligations. Marion Hourdequin
The Possibility of a Joint Communiqué: My Response to Hourdequin. Baylor Johnson

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles

Editorial: Terrible Economics, Ecosystems and Banking. Clive L. Spash
Bystanding and Climate Change. Carol Booth
Environmental Stewardship, Moral Psychology and Gardens. Marcello di Paola

Radically Non-Ideal Climate Politics and the Obligation to at Least Vote Green. Aaron Maltais

Game Theory and the Self-Fulfilling Climate Tragedy. Matthew Kopec

Sharing Responsibility for Divesting from Fossil Fuels. Eric S. Godoy

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