Environmental Pragmatism and its Application to Climate Change - The Moral Obligations of Developed and Developing Nations to Avert Climate Change as viewed through Technological Pragmatism


Environmental Pragmatism
Climate Change Ethics

How to Cite

Simpson, F. J. (2010). Environmental Pragmatism and its Application to Climate Change - The Moral Obligations of Developed and Developing Nations to Avert Climate Change as viewed through Technological Pragmatism. Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Journal, 6. https://doi.org/10.15695/vurj.v6i0.2874


Many authors have posited moral arguments, as to why climate change should be combated, but most fail to provide a practical solution for both developed and developing countries. James Garvey’s theory of equal burdens seeks to ensure that no country is unjustly penalized, and is currently the best theory on offer. This theory, though, falls short from a scientific perspective and leads to a philosophical objection. The philosophical objection is that there is no moral imperative to encourage developing countries to act and to develop responsibly, while providing no moral responsibility to future generations. Many authors have submitted that developed countries have historically used up an unfair majority of the world’s carbon sink, thereby depriving developing nations of their share. Prior to 1950, there were no cleaner alternatives available for commercial power generation (until the advent of nuclear power plants), and truly renewable sources of energy were not readily available until 1990 (wind, solar, geothermal, etc). As such, there was no alternative path for developed nations to pursue. The only other option would be to discourage further developments, which is counter productive and illogical. An environmental pragmatist view would claim that developed nations are responsible for using up the carbon sink, and should be held to a higher standard in light of cleaner alternative technologies. However, this view would also hold that developing countries also have a moral obligation to develop responsibly and apply cleaner technology. Consequently, the traditional argument that developing nations should be allowed to pollute and emit carbon, since current developed nations did so in the past, is inherently flawed. This, by no means, excuses developed nations from doing their part to combat climate change as they possess the technological innovation and economic resources to be an example to the rest of the world. The main questions that are raised include: How does environmental pragmatism dictate that climate change be combated and abated by implementing sustainable practices, when the current value system is centered upon economics? Also, what responsibilities does the developed and developing world have (and to whom)? Answering these questions demands a systematic review of past arguments concerning climate change, a description of their short comings, and a proposition of new solutions. Works from James Garvey, Stephen Haller, Peter Singer, John Cobb, Stephen Gardiner, Dale Jamison, and Donald Scherer are reviewed within this paper to gain an overview of the current moral arguments within the field of environmental ethics and climate change. The most important gap to fill will be the issue of emissions distributions for a carbon constrained world, which numerous philosophers have shown is the most moral solution. The proposed methods will involve viewing climate change through Environmental Pragmatism as posited by Andrew Light and Bryan Norton, and secondly through technology to address the objections to current theories. The purpose of blending science with moral philosophy is that one cannot make educated policy decisions without considering both. To address the second question in the previous paragraph, arguments will be made against traditional historical emissions for determining per capita emissions for CO2, as well as demonstrating that technological innovation has placed a moral requirement on developed as well as developing nations to do everything within their power to avert climate change.