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“Climate Justice: Vulnerability and Protection” by Henry Shue Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jan 25th, 2021

Author’s Background

  • The author is an international relations professor based at Oxford University.
  • He studied at Merton College and later went to Princeton for his doctoral studies.
  • He participates in the Climate Justice Dialogue, an initiative that advocates for global justice for the victims of the effects of global warming.
  • He plays an advisory role in the Association for the American-based Practical and Professional Ethics.
  • He is renowned for developing the international normative theory. Since 2001, he has been teaching the theory to the Master of Philosophy students at the University of Oxford.
  • He founded the University of Maryland’s ‘Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy’ in the mid-1970s.
  • He has written extensively on the issues of human rights and distributive justice in the context of climate change.

Important Issues Raised in the Book

  • Shue, in his book, examines the issue of climate change and its impact on future generations.
  • The key topics covered in the book include global warming, greenhouse emissions, global climate justice, human rights, and the Kyoto protocol, among others.
  • The author provides provocative insights into the role of global justice in the context of climate change.

Outline Structure of the Book

The main ideas in each of the 17 chapters of the book are as outlined below:

Chapter 1

  • Minimizing the effects of climate change should not hurt developing economies.
  • The concept of climate justice: developing nations should be allowed a minimum emission level to keep the economy developing1.

Chapter 2

  • Equitable distribution of costs associated with global warming.
  • Coping with the social effects of climate change.
  • Fair allocation of emission costs and consequences.

Chapter 3

  • The rich countries’ per capita emissions must not exceed developing countries’ ones.
  • A fair transition into climate justice should include population control and a sufficient mitigation budget.

Chapter 4

  • Global warming and fairness in emission controls.
  • Disproportionate controls will affect the economic development of developing nations.

Chapter 5

  • The issue of distributive justice in the climate change debate.
  • Different emission control standards should be applied for industrialized and developing countries.

Chapter 6

  • Unfair human preferences exacerbate the effects of environmental change, e.g., use of private automobiles2.
  • Global warming fairness: sharing the responsibility for environmental change.
  • Moral responsibility for climate change should relate to a country’s per capita emission.

Chapter 7

  • Allow people the right to self-determination, but establish external sovereignty restraints to ensure justice in climate change matters.
  • There should be international collaboration in addressing environmental challenges.

Chapter 8

  • The intergenerational challenge: climate change decisions have an impact on future generations.
  • The risk of bequeathing environmental hazards to future generations.
  • The protection of the environment for posterity.

Chapter 9

  • There is an international inequality in environmental change mitigation. It isn’t lucrative for industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions because it will lower economic growth.
  • Fairness in the environmental change debate should take into account the rights of future generations.

Chapter 10

  • The use of carbon fuels by industrialized nations in the past contributed to climate change.
  • The effects of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions on the global climate.

Chapter 11

  • The possible impacts of the Kyoto protocol on climate change mitigation.
  • The current resolutions and international accords have an impact on the welfare of future generations.
  • Climate change is an environmental time bomb.

Chapter 12

  • The current generation has a moral responsibility to preserve the environment for future generations.
  • The use of innovative ways to tame climate change, e.g., renewable energy sources.

Chapter 13

  • Methods for mitigating the effects of climate change and pollution.
  • Viable international actions to avert global warming, e.g., reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Chapter 14

  • The delays in implementing international accords may have irreversible impacts on the global climate.
  • Viable opportunities for saving the planet from environmental catastrophes associated with climate change.

Chapter 15

  • Global leadership on environmental change issues should belong to rich countries.
  • The involvement of all countries in climate change mitigation efforts.

Chapter 16

  • The place of human rights in the climate change debate.
  • Environmental justice for vulnerable groups should take center stage in the discussion.

Chapter 17

  • Fair climate change resolutions will help mitigate the effects of global warming.
  • Industrialized nations should reduce their per capita emissions. Imposing emission limits for developing countries will only affect their economic development.

Point of the Book

In my opinion, Shue’s main reason for writing this book was to enlighten readers on the ‘justice’ issues surrounding climate change. ‘Climate justice’ is a recurring theme throughout the book. The author reasons that, though the effects of climate change and global warming are real, the mitigation strategies are unfair and misguided. He claims that developed countries realized their economic ambitions by exploiting carbon resources. In his view, it is unfair to force developing nations to reduce their carbon emissions, as this action will hurt their economic development and increase poverty. Moreover, developing nations did not create the current global environmental problems. Therefore, there should be fairness in the allocation of costs and emission targets globally.

The author’s main opinion relates to the unfair climate change policy in the international context. Throughout the book, the author addresses the issue of fairness or distributive justice from different perspectives. He discusses how countries can achieve a fair distribution of global warming costs. He also examines how the costs of coping with the effects of climate change can be shared fairly3. The author distinguishes between unnecessary and subsistence emissions and appraises the Kyoto Protocol on climate change to expound on the theme of fairness.

Shue bases his opinion on the view that the existing international accords are erroneous because they require both developing and developed nations to adhere to the same standards of emission targets. He notes that the current mitigation strategies pose a danger to the economic development of developing nations. Climate justice requires a fair distribution of the costs and effects of environmental change among nations.

Connection with Worldviews

Shue’s book on climate justice establishes the connection between the natural environment and society. It calls for a paradigm shift in the international approach to climate change. Therefore, the worldview that best fits Shue’s book is the ‘New Ecological Paradigm’ or NEP. The key assumption underlying this worldview is that “humans are exceptionally interdependent species” in a global ecosystem4. Shue predicates his argument on the premise that climate change is a global concern, and therefore, there should be fairness in the concerted efforts to address its effects. His argument throughout the book is that the environment can be beneficial to everybody if there is fairness in addressing environmental problems.

The NEP worldview also holds that sociocultural factors influence human actions throughout the globe5. Additionally, human activities often have unintended effects on the environment. Fossil fuel exploitation is a key driver of economic development. However, it has led to global warming, pollution, and environmental degradation6. These unintended effects of the industrial revolution underscore the fact that the environment “imposes physical and biological restraints” on development activities7. Thus, climate change resolutions are crucial in preserving the environment for future generations. However, Shue argues that strict emission limits will disadvantage developing economies that did not cause the current environmental challenges in the first place.

I chose the NEP paradigm as the appropriate worldview for the book because Shue insists on the interdependence of humans in the context of environmental change. He calls for distributive justice in addressing global warming. In my view, Shue’s ‘distributive justice’ argument relates to the NEP worldview, which stands on the premise that humans are interdependent in the natural system. Human action in one part of the world has an indirect effect on livelihoods in other parts of the globe and on future generations8. In this view, mitigation strategies should be fair and beneficial to all nations.

Bibliography

Arnold, Dennis. Ethics of Global Climate Change. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Black, Brian, David Hassenzahl, Jennie Stephens, Gary Weisel, and Nancy Gift.

Climate Change: An Encyclopedia of Science and History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2013.

Bunker, Stephen and Paul Ciccantell. Globalization and the Race for Resources (Themes in Global Social Change). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University, 2005.

, and Eric Ouellet. Environmental Sociology: Theory and Practice. Toronto: Captus Press, 1995.

Pellow, David and Hollie Brehm. “An Environmental Sociology for the Twenty-First Century.” Annual Review of Sociology 39 (2013): 229–50.

Shue, Henry. Climate Justice: Vulnerability and Protection. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Footnotes

  1. Henry Shue, Climate Justice: Vulnerability and Protection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 14.
  2. Shue, Climate Justice, 72
  3. Shue, Climate Justice, 154.
  4. Brian Black et al., Climate Change: An Encyclopedia of Science and History, (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2013), 71.
  5. David Pellow and Hollie Brehm, “An Environmental Sociology for the Twenty-First Century.” Annual Review of Sociology 39 (2013): 232.
  6. Stephen Bunker and Paul Ciccantell, Globalization and the Race for Resources (Themes in Global Social Change), (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University, 2005), 138.
  7. Michael Mehta and Eric Ouellet, Environmental Sociology: Theory and Practice, (Toronto: Captus Press, 1995), 93.
  8. Mehta and Ouellet, Environmental Sociology, 112.
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