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Bearing the Weight of the World: On the Extent of an Individual's Environmental Responsibility

  • Ty Raterman
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    To what extent is any individual morally obligated to live environmentally sustainably? In answering this, I reject views I see as constituting two extremes. On one, it depends entirely on whether there exists a collective agreement; and if no such agreement exists, no one is obligated to reduce her/his consumption or pollution unilaterally. On the other, the lack of a collective agreement is morally irrelevant, and regardless of what others are doing, each person is obligated to limit her/his pollution and consumption to a level that would be sustainable if everyone were to act in this way. I argue that the truth is somewhere between these, but that a very precise specification of the extent of one's responsibility is impossible. Roughly, what can be said is that each individual ought constantly to strive to do more than she/he does currently and to push her/himself into new, uncomfortable territory, though no one is obligated to martyr her/himself for an environmental cause.

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    Article provided by White Horse Press in its journal Environmental Values.

    Volume (Year): 21 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 4 (November)
    Pages: 417-436

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    Handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev21:ev2119
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.whp-journals.co.uk

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    1. Baylor L. Johnson, 2003. "Ethical Obligations in a Tragedy of the Commons," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 12(3), pages 271-287, August.
    2. Marion Hourdequin, 2010. "Climate, Collective Action and Individual Ethical Obligations," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 19(4), pages 423-464, November.
    3. Lucie Middlemiss, 2010. "Reframing Individual Responsibility for Sustainable Consumption: Lessons from Environmental Justice and Ecological Citizenship," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 19(2), pages 147-167, May.
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