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Environmental Values

Disagreement and Responses to Climate Change

Graham Long

Environmental Values 20 (2011): 503-525. doi: 10.3197/096327111X13150367351294


The potential harms associated with global climate change demand an urgent response. But at the same time, the nature and extent of both the problem and our proper response to it are continually contested, within the academic community and wider society. What should be the ethical import of this disagreement? In this paper I set out John Rawls' theory of reasonable disagreement as a way of analysing such contestation. On Rawls' account, reasonable disagreement is founded in diversity rather than straightforward error. I argue that many aspects of the scientific and ethical debate on climate change can be usefully viewed from within such a perspective. This raises, I suggest, serious problems for deciding what the human response to global warming must be. Lastly, I survey two responses which might be thought to cope with such pervasive disagreement. Neither, however, is clearly effective. In my conclusion I suggest that reasonable disagreement might be tackled best in a model of deliberative democracy. Such a model, however, does not generate easy answers to the problems of climate change.


Climate change, reasonable disagreement, political liberalism, justice, environmental ethics

REFERENCES to other articles in Environmental Values:

Global Partnership, Climate Change and Complex Equality Finn Arler

A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics and the Problem of Moral Corruption. Stephen M. Gardiner

Anthropocentrism: A Misunderstood Problem. Tim Hayward

Sustainable Development and Social Justice: Expanding the Rawlsian Framework of Global Justice Oluf Langhelle

Anthropocentrism vs. Nonanthropocentrism: Why Should We Care?.Katie McShane

Why Worry About Climate Change? A Research Agenda. Richard S.J. Tol

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles

Editorial: Building on the Past, Creating a Future Isis Brook

Climate Change and Political Philosophy: Who Owes What to Whom?. Joerg Chet Tremmel

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