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Climate Change, No‐Harm Principle, and Moral Responsibility of Individual Emitters

Journal of Applied Philosophy

Published online on


The article defends the no‐harm principle as an intuitively plausible and a common‐sense way to justify individual emitters’ duties to take more radical steps in the fight against climate change. The appearance of climate change as requiring large‐scale collective action should not lead us astray with respect to the fundamental moral nature of the problem: individual emitters who knowingly sustain and foster the carbon intensive ways of acting also bear personal moral responsibility for the foreseeable climate‐related harm and acquire in line with the no‐harm principle a direct personal duty to contribute to the efforts of preventing the harm. The article examines more closely the so‐called collectivistic approach, according to which emitters’ responsibilities are primarily collective, and argues that without individualistic grounds of emitters’ personal moral responsibility for the harm the collectivistic approach fails to provide unstructured emitters with sufficient reason to act together and fulfil their correlative duty of effective harm prevention. The article argues that since an emitter's personal moral responsibility warrants others to expect her personal engagement in the efforts of effective harm prevention and can justify blame if she fails, identifications of personal responsibility may also significantly increase unstructured emitters’ collective capability of remedying the climate crisis.