Review of John Broome

I wrote a review of John Broome’s book, Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World, for the TLS, called ‘Justice for a Dollar A Day’.  It’s here if you’re a subscriber.  The headline comes from Broome’s surprising views about justice and goodness.  Here’s an extract from the review:

Surprisingly, Broome argues that goodness doesn’t demand much of us as individuals.  You could throw yourself at reducing your carbon footprint, spend your savings on a yurt and a sustainable life, but you’d do much more good, extend many more lives, by simply donating some money to help combat tuberculosis.  If you want to do something good, reducing your emissions is an ineffective choice.  On the other hand, governments really do have the power and resources to make a difference to the climate. Duties of goodness fall exclusively on them.

Individuals should think instead about justice.  Broome cites the World Health Organization’s estimate that the lifetime emissions of an average person in the West will wipe out more than six months of healthy human life. We’re all doing serious harm, and justice demands that we reduce our carbon footprints to zero.  Broome argues that we should do all the usual environmentally friendly things – don’t waste water, be frugal with energy – and then cancel out our remaining emissions by offsetting, paying for the removal of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere equal to our emissions.  For an average American this adds up to just $300 per year – your obligations to justice discharged for less than a dollar a day.  It’s a bold claim, as many environmentalists are incapable of discussing offsetting without mentioning the sale of indulgences.  Broome finds the usual objections wanting.

It’s a good book, I think.  Well worth reading.

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