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A utilitarian notion of responsibility for sustainability


Author Info

  • Joachim Fuenfgelt

    (Department of Sustainability Sciences and Department of Economics, Leuphana University Lueneburg, Germany)

  • Stefan Baumgaertner

    (Department of Sustainability Sciences and Department of Economics, Leuphana University of Lueneburg, Germany)


We develop and formalize a utilitarian notion of responsibility for sustainability which is inspired by Singer's (1972) principle and the Brundtland Commission?s notion of sustainability (WCED 1987). We relate this notion of responsibility to established criteria for the assessment of intertemporal societal choice, namely Pareto-efficiency, (discounted) utilitarian welfare maximization, and Brundtland-sustainability. Using a two-generationsresource- model, we find the following. Sustainability and responsibility for sustainability are equivalent if and only if sustainability is feasible. If it is not, there still exists a responsible allocation which is also Pareto-efficient. Further, the utilitarian welfare maximum without discounting always fulfills the criterion of responsibility. Discounting may be responsible to a certain extent if sustainability is feasible. If sustainability is not feasible, discounting is not responsible.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Lüneburg, Institute of Economics in its series Working Paper Series in Economics with number 234.

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Length: 24 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:lue:wpaper:234

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Keywords: basic needs; Brundtland; discounting; ethics; natural resources; Pareto efficiency; responsibility; Singer; sustainability; utilitarianism;

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  1. GOLLIER Christian, 2008. "Ecological Discounting," LERNA Working Papers, LERNA, University of Toulouse 08.18.262, LERNA, University of Toulouse.
  2. Anthony Heyes & Sandeep Kapur, 2011. "Regulating altruistic agents," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 44(1), pages 227-246, February.
  3. Fleurbaey, Marc, 2008. "Fairness, Responsibility, and Welfare," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, Oxford University Press, number 9780199215911, October.
  4. John Roemer, 2011. "The Ethics of Intertemporal Distribution in a Warming Planet," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 48(3), pages 363-390, March.
  5. Kjell Arne Brekke & Snorre Kverndokk & Karinen Nyborg, 2000. "An Economic Model of Moral Motivation," Discussion Papers, Research Department of Statistics Norway 290, Research Department of Statistics Norway.
  6. Ernest Partridge, 2003. "In search of sustainable values," International Journal of Sustainable Development, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 6(1), pages 25-41.
  7. Karine Nyborg & Mari Rege, 2001. "Does Public Policy Crowd Out Private Contributions to Public Goods?," Discussion Papers, Research Department of Statistics Norway 300, Research Department of Statistics Norway.
  8. Frank Krysiak, 2009. "Sustainability and its relation to efficiency under uncertainty," Economic Theory, Springer, Springer, vol. 41(2), pages 297-315, November.
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