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Disagreement and Responses to Climate Change


  • Graham Long


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Graham Long, 2011. "Disagreement and Responses to Climate Change," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 20(4), pages 503-525, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev20:ev2024

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Richard S.J. Tol, 2008. "Why Worry About Climate Change? A Research Agenda," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 17(4), pages 437-470, November.
    2. Andrew Dobson, 2006. "Thick Cosmopolitanism," Political Studies, Political Studies Association, vol. 54, pages 165-184, March.
    3. Hulme,Mike, 2009. "Why We Disagree about Climate Change," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521727327, May.
    4. Finn Arler, 2001. "Global Partnership, Climate Change and Complex Equality," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 10(3), pages 301-329, August.
    5. Derek Bell, 2002. "How can Political Liberals be Environmentalists?," Political Studies, Political Studies Association, vol. 50(4), pages 703-724, September.
    6. Hulme,Mike, 2009. "Why We Disagree about Climate Change," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521898690, May.
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    More about this item


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

    JEL classification:

    • Q25 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Water


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