The Economics and Ethics of Human Induced Climate Change

Clive L. Spash, Clemens Gattringer

Publikation: Working/Discussion PaperWU Working Paper


Human induced climate change poses a series of ethical challenges to the current political
economy, although it has often be regarded by economists as only an ethical issue for those
concerned about future generations. The central debate in economics has then concerned the
rate at which future costs and benefits should be discounted. Indeed the full range of ethical
aspects of climate change are rarely even discussed. Despite recent high profile and lengthy
academic papers on the topic the ethical remains at best superficial within climate change
economics. Recognising the necessary role of ethical judgment poses a problem for
economists who conduct exercises in cost-benefit analysis and deductive climate modelling
under the presumption of an objectivity that excludes values. Priority is frequently given to
orthodox economic methodology, but that this entails a consequentialist utilitarian philosophy
is forgotten while the terms of the debate and understanding is simultaneously restricted. We
set out to raise the relevance of a broader range of ethical issues including: intergenerational
ethics as the basis for the discount rate, interregional distribution of harm, equity and justice
issues concerning the allocation of carbon budgets, incommensurability in the context of
compensation, and the relationship of climate ethics to economic growth. We argue that the
pervasiveness of strong uncertainty in climate science, incommensurability of values and nonutilitarian
ethics are inherent features of the climate policy debate. That mainstream
economics is ill-equipped to address these issues relegates it to the category of misplaced
concreteness and its policy prescriptions are then highly misleading misrepresentations of
what constitutes ethical action. (authors' abstract)
HerausgeberWU Vienna University of Economics and Business
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 1 Juni 2016


NameSRE - Discussion Papers

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