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Do Rights-Based Moralities Cause Climate Change? Balancing the Rights of Current Persons and the Needs of Future Generations

Barnard, Benjamin (2018) Do Rights-Based Moralities Cause Climate Change? Balancing the Rights of Current Persons and the Needs of Future Generations. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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This thesis explores the relationship between rights-based moral systems and climate change. It argues that supporters of rights-based moralities must give the realisation of rights priority over non-rights-based moral concerns. It further contends that future persons cannot possess rights that would place current persons under correlative duties towards them before their conception. The thesis then highlights that climate change will need to be combatted through programmes of adaptation and mitigation. Unfortunately, the majority of those protected by such programmes will be future persons. It is therefore argued that rights-based moralities struggle to endorse – and might even actively oppose – the imposition by states of extensive programmes of adaptation and mitigation. Such programmes actively and directly restrict the realisation of the rights of many current persons. Even if this were not the case, supporters of rights are unable to justify the kind of spending that would be needed to finance those aspects of adaptation and mitigation which aim to benefit future persons while the fundamental rights of a great many current persons go unmet due to a lack of funds. As a result, rights-based moralities must justify climate burdens solely through reference to current persons. It is argued that, in the case of Interest- and Choice-based theories of rights, this would encourage an increase in emissions through the implication that pollution was permissible provided adaptation burdens were met. Alternatively, support for a rights-based morality akin to that put forward by Robert Nozick would enable us to implement mitigation, but the system’s disavowal of positive rights would simultaneously cause excessive harm to the wellbeing of many. The inability of rights-based moralities to deal with climate change in an effective and ethical manner leads us to question their legitimacy more generally.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Human Rights Centre
Depositing User: Benjamin Barnard
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2018 10:16
Last Modified: 01 Feb 2018 10:16

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