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

Author

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  • Ty Raterman

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Ty Raterman, 2012. "Bearing the Weight of the World: On the Extent of an Individual's Environmental Responsibility," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 21(4), pages 417-436, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev21:ev2119
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Marion Hourdequin, 2010. "Climate, Collective Action and Individual Ethical Obligations," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 19(4), pages 423-464, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Clive L. Spash, 2012. "Response and Responsibility," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 21(4), pages 391-396, November.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Tragedy of the commons; collective action; individual responsibility; ecological footprint; sustainable consumption;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development

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