I did this simple online test to calculate my ecological footprint. The outcome was a 2.2, which means that if everybody has my lifestyle we would need 2.2 worlds. Compared to the average citizen of the United States (they score 5) my score isn’t that bad, but still we wouldn’t all fit on this planet. I already avoid the two most polluting activities: eating meat and driving a car. To get my footprint to the beautiful score of a 1.0, I should probably stop taking flights and buy less products. I could also protest against bad government policies, support organizations that fight global warming or I can boycott companies that contribute a lot to global warming such as Tata. But is it obligated that I, as just one individual, do something about global warming? Isn’t that the task of the government? Global warming is not my fault, right?
Lets suppose that the we all agree that the government has to do something about the global warming. The government has the moral obligation to make our country safe and liveable, also for the future. That doesn’t say anything about my individual moral obligation to do something about global warming. . Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (2010) tries to find the answer on what individual moral obligation concerning global warming is. He refers to the harm principle: We have a moral obligation not to perform an act that causes harm to others. However, the activities I perform (like using an airplane) do not directly harm another person. It’s not that because of my seat in a flight someone else has to inhale all of the exhaust. On the other hand, indirectly my seat can create a habit that will lead me to book a flight again or other people (family and friends) will follow me and also take a flight. This leads to the second principle of Sinnott-Armstrong: The indirect harm principle: We have a moral obligation not to perform an act that causes harm to others indirectly by causing someone to carry out acts that cause harm to others. Leading to the contribution principle: We have a moral obligation not to make problems worse, the gas principle: We have a moral obligation not to expel greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the risk principle: We have a moral obligation not to increase the risk of harms to other people.
The stated principles imply that every act I perform violates a moral obligation. This theory about climate ethics confuses me. Maybe it’s best to just continue living my life, acting my activities, in a way that feels honest. If everyone does that, the world would be much better.
Facing the Future. (n.d.). Ecological footprint tour. Retrieved 11 25, 2014, from Facing the Future:
Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2010). It's not my fault: global warming and individual moral obligations. In S. Gardiner, S. Caney, D. Jamieson, & H. Shue, Climate Ethics.