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Climate Change and Sustainable Welfare: An Argument for the Centrality of Human Needs

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  • Ian Gough

Abstract

Since climate change threatens human wellbeing across the globe and into the future, we require a concept of wellbeing that encompasses an equivalent ambit. This paper argues that only a concept of human need can do the work required. It compares need theory with three alternative approaches. Preference satisfaction theory is criticised on the grounds of subjectivity, epistemic irrationality, endogenous and adaptive preferences, the limitlessness of wants, the absence of moral evaluation, and the non-specificity of future preferences. The happiness approach is found equally wanting. The main section shows how these deficiencies can be addressed by a coherent theory of need. Human needs are necessary preconditions to avoid serious harm, are universalisable, objective, empirically grounded, non-substitutable and satiable. They are broader than 'material' needs since a need for personal autonomy figures in all theoretical accounts. While needs are universal, need satisfiers are most often contextual and relative to institutions and cultures. The satiability and non-substitutability of needs is critical for understanding sustainability. The capability approaches of Sen and Nussbaum are compared but argued to be less fundamental. Finally, human needs provide the only concept that can ground moral obligations across global space and intergenerational time and thus operationalise 'sustainable welfare'.

Suggested Citation

  • Ian Gough, 2014. "Climate Change and Sustainable Welfare: An Argument for the Centrality of Human Needs," CASE Papers case182, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
  • Handle: RePEc:cep:sticas:case182
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    File URL: http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/cp/casepaper182.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Joe Devine & Laura Camfield & Ian Gough, 2008. "Autonomy or Dependence – or Both?: Perspectives from Bangladesh," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 9(1), pages 105-138, January.
    2. Tania Burchardt & Polly Vizard, 2011. "'Operationalizing' the Capability Approach as a Basis for Equality and Human Rights Monitoring in Twenty-first-century Britain," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(1), pages 91-119.
    3. Samuel Bowles, 1998. "Endogenous Preferences: The Cultural Consequences of Markets and Other Economic Institutions," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(1), pages 75-111, March.
    4. Alkire, Sabina, 2005. "Valuing Freedoms: Sen's Capability Approach and Poverty Reduction," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199283316.
    5. Hausman,Daniel M. & McPherson,Michael S., 2006. "Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy and Public Policy," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521608664, December.
    6. Gough, Ian, 2003. "Lists and thresholds: comparing our theory of human need with Nussbaum's capabilities approach," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 36659, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    7. Sabina Alkire, 2005. "Subjective Quantitative Studies of Human Agency," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 74(1), pages 217-260, October.
    8. Hausman,Daniel M. & McPherson,Michael S., 2006. "Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy and Public Policy," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521846295, July.
    9. Vizard, Polly, 2006. "Poverty and Human Rights: Sen's 'Capability Perspective' Explored," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199273874.
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    Cited by:

    1. Folk, György, 2019. "Weal: the universal core of human well-being," MPRA Paper 97082, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Human needs; welfare theory; wellbeing; global justice; intergenerational justice; sustainability; preferences; capabilities;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • B5 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches
    • I00 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General - - - General
    • P46 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - Consumer Economics; Health; Education and Training; Welfare, Income, Wealth, and Poverty
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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