This post is one of a series of entries that has looked at ethical problems with cost arguments made in opposition to the adoption of climate change legislation and policies.
As we have seen in prior ClimateEthics’ posts, with the possible exception of arguments that claim the science of climate change does not support action on climate change, by far the most common arguments against action on climate change are claims that proposed climate change policies should be opposed on grounds that they cost too much.
These arguments are of various types such as claims that climate change legislation will destroy jobs, reduce GDP, damage specific businesses such as the coal and petroleum industries, increase the cost of fuel, or simply that proposed climate change legislation can’t be afforded by the public. This post is one of a series that identifies ethical problems with these cost arguments made against the adoption of climate change policies and legislation.
In the entry entitled Ethical Problems With Cost Arguments Against Climate Change Policies: The Failure To Recognize Duties To Non-citizens, ClimateEthics explained how cost arguments were often deeply ethically problematic because they ignored duties, responsibilities, and obligations to others to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is, cost arguments usually appeal to matters of self-interest and ignore responsibilities to others including the tens of millions of poor people around the world that are already suffering from climate change impacts or are vulnerable to harsh climate change impacts in the future.
In an entry entitled Ethical Issues in the Use of Cost-Benefit Analysis of Climate Change Programs< ClimateEthics explained why cost arguments were also ethically flawed because they often:
(a) ignore the fact that costs would be imposed on those who are causing the problem yet the victims of climate change that would benefit from taking action are some of the poorest people around the world, and thereby are inconsistent with theories of distributive justice; and
(b) implicitly rely on “preference utilitarianism,” a justification for non-action on climate change that is ethically flawed when applied to climate change for several reasons.
In another recent post entitled recent post, ClimateEthics explained why costs arguments could not be made against climate change policies if greenhouse gas emissions led to human rights violations Climate Change Policies: Increased Costs May Not Justify Human Rights Violations,
This post now looks at how cost-benefit arguments made in opposition to climate change policies are also often ethically problematic because they fail to accurately identify the full damages of doing nothing on climate change.
The failure to adequately deal with the full costs of doing nothing stems from two problems with how the values of the benefits of taking action are calculated.
First cost arguments fail to fully identify all potential harms and damages from climate change.
Second cost arguments usually discount the values of future benefits to be experienced from climate change, an approach which raises numerous ethical problems.
This post looks at ethical issues that arise because of the failure to fully identify and appropriately value all potential damages and harms that will be avoided if climate change policies and programs are enacted. A later post will look at the problems of discounting future benefits.