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Utilitarianism on Climate Change - Dictionary of Arguments

Norgaard I 342
Climate Change/Utilitarianism/VsPresentism: One prominent alternative to presentism is classical utilitarianism, an ethical framework that dates to the seminal work of Jeremy Bentham (1823)(1). According to utilitarians, social institutions and public policies should be designed to maximize total utility or well‐being in society with equal weight attached to the welfare of each and every person. Mill (1863)(2) termed this criterion the ‘greatest happiness principle.’ Singer (2002: 42)(3) discusses the implications of utilitarianism for climate stabilization policy. On the one hand, utilitarians favor an approach that balances the costs and benefits of greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, they also attach special importance to the interests of people suffering material deprivation.
>Utilitarianism/Bentham, >Utilitarianism/Singer, >Presentism/Nordhaus.
Climate Costs/Utilitarianism/Singer, P.: According to Singer (…) the costs of climate change mitigation should be borne disproportionately by the wealthiest members of the international community since a dollar of net benefits provides less utility to a rich person than to a poor person. For this same reason, utilitarians are especially concerned about the potential threat that climate change poses to incomes and livelihoods in low‐income, developing countries that are resource dependent and therefore especially vulnerable to changes in environmental conditions (Anthoff et al. 2009a)(4).
Utilitarianism: (…) utilitarianism provides no basis for attaching different weights to the welfare of present and future generations. On the contrary, utility is viewed as equally
Norgaard I 343
valuable regardless of who experiences it in either space or time (Broome 2008)(5). (…) much of moral philosophy is concerned with understanding and managing the conflicts that exist between the pursuit of self‐interest and the performance of one's moral duties. Utilitarianism approaches this problem by asserting that people's decisions should aim to maximize total utility in society without attaching special weight to personal needs and concerns.
Norgaard I 344
In this sense, utilitarianism is in tension with the moral principles that support liberal‐ democratic political, economic, and legal institutions, which attach paramount importance to the extension and preservation of individual rights and freedoms.



1. Bentham, J. 1823. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. London: W. Pickering.
2. Mill, J. S. 1863. Utilitarianism. London: Parker, Son & Bourn.
3. Singer, P. 2002. One World: The Ethics of Globalization. New Haven: Yale University Press.
4. Anthoff, D., Hepburn, C., and Tol, R. S. J. 2009a. Equity weighting and the marginal damage costs of climate change. Ecological Economics 68: 836–49.
5. Broome, J. 2008. The ethics of climate change. Scientific American 298: 97–102.



Howarth, Richard: “Intergenerational Justice”, In: John S. Dryzek, Richard B. Norgaard, David Schlosberg (eds.) (2011): The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Utilitarianism
Norgaard I
Richard Norgaard
John S. Dryzek
The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society Oxford 2011


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