Simon Caney

Climate Change, Human Rights, and Moral Thresholds


1.      OVERVIEW

2.      Compares four approaches to climate change and argues for the human rights approach

         a.      One: Cost-benefit approach – compare costs and benefits of anthropogenic climate change (= CC) with costs and benefits of programs combating CC

         b.      Two: Security approach -- Impact of CC on international violence/war

                   i.       CC is a “threat multiplier exacerbating existing tensions and instability;” Tensions over scarce resources; Land loss and border disputes; Conflicts of over energy sources, migration; Conflicts between those causing CC and those suffering the consequences of CC

         c.      Three: Violates nature approach

                   i.       Human induced CC involves human domination and destruction of the natural world

         d.      Four: Human rights approach

                   i.       CC jeopardizes some key human rights

3.      Mitigation, adaptation, compensation

         a.      Mitigation: Mitigate changes to climate system; Try to lessen amount of anthropogenic greenhouse gases go into atmosphere; less amount of CC/global warming that occurs

                   i.       Not prevent, because CC in process and committed to more

         b.      Adaptation: Adjust human systems to cope with the changes in climate system; Try to adjust human societies and nature to make effects of climate change less bad

         c.      Compensation: Compensate people who have been wronged/harmed by climate change



5.      Right defined as Minimum moral thresholds to which all people entitled simply in virtue of their humanity which override all other moral values”

         a.      Humanity: Rights people have simply in virtue of being human and grounded on respect for that humanity

                   i.       As opposed to special rights they have due to contracts or special relationships or being born in certain nations

         b.      Moral thresholds: Human rights (=HR) are moral thresholds below which people should not fall (a moral minimum treatment)

                   i.       Most basic moral standards to which people entitled

                   ii.      Other moral ideas and values exist

                   iii.     These are most fundamental moral requirements people can claim of others

         c.      Universal protection and obligations: entitlements of each and every individual to certain minimal standards of treatment and entail obligations of all persons to respect those basic minimum standards

                   i.       Reject aggregative moralities (like utilitarianism) that sum up interests of all in order to increase total social good.

                   ii.      Condemns any tradeoffs leave some below the minimum

         d.      Lexical priority: HR generally take priority over other moral values (like increased efficiency or promoting happiness)

                   i.       In clashes between HR and promoting general welfare, HR take priority

6.      Positive and Negative Rights

         a.      Negative rights: Require negative duties (acts you may not do)

                   i.       Negatvie right not to be tortured

         b.      Positive rights: Require positive duties (actions you must take)

                   i.       Positive right to education: Not just prohibits people from depriving persons of education, but also requires people to do things to insure that all have access to education

7.      Note: All of Caney’s HR are negative, which is the least expansive, and hence least controversial, way to specify rights

         a.      He does not deny that broader conceptions of rights legitimate, but believes that even his weaker conception is enough to show CC violates HR and therefore requires significant action



9.      HR1, human right to life: Every person has a right not to be “arbitrarily deprived of his life”

         a.      Negative, not positive right to have life saved

         b.      Arbitrarily, means unjustified taking of life (sometimes taking life can be justified)

         c.      Anthropogenic CC violates this right in two ways

                   i.       Increased frequence of severe weather events (tornadoes, hurricanes, storm surges, floods) which cause loss of life (in 100,000s)

                            (1)    CC will produce flooding and landslides

                   ii.      Heat waves lead to loss of lives (100s died in Chicago heat wave in 1995), respiratory and cardiovascular failures

10.    HR2, human right to health: All persons have a human right that other people not act so as to create serious threats to their health

         a.      Not a maximalist right to health

         b.      A negative right not to have health threatened

         c.      Health effects of CC

                   i.       Increase # of people suffering from disease and injury due to heat waves, floods, storms, fires, droughts

                   ii.      Increase range of malaria (decrease in others)

                   iii.     Increase in diarrhoeal diseases (2 to 5% for poor regions), in cardio-respiratory morbidity due to ozone, in risk of dengue fever (from 3.5 billion to 5-6 billion people)

11.    HR3, human right to subsistence: All persons have a right that other people do not act so as to deprive them of the means of subsistence

         a.      Denying others their ability to meet subsidence needs is especially bad when caused by advantaged people who don’t need to engage in such harmful behavior

         b.      Ways CC undermines subsistence

                   i.       Temperature increases lead to drought and undermine food security (30% increase in water shortages by 2050 in Southern Africa)

                   ii.      Sea level rise involve loss of agricultural land

                   iii.     Flooding will lead to crop failure

                   iv.     Freak weather events will harm agriculture

                   v.      One estimate: 50 million more people at risk of hunger by 2080 with 2.5C rise in temperature, and 70 million for 3C rise

12.    Considerations/caveats

         a.      If CC was not human caused, no violation of rights would occur

                   i.       But climate scientists unequivocal that current and future CC stems from human activities

         b.      By making his rights relatively weak he hopes to make his premises as uncontroversial as possible

         c.      May be additional HR that CC compromises

                   i.       E.g., right to development, right not to be forcibly evicted (as will happen for people living in coastal settlements or small island states)

         d.      Not only reason to criticize CC may be other grounds (e.g., wrong to treat natural world in such a hubristic fashion)



14.    Does not condone (as does CB) sacrifice of some basic entitlements (rights) just because a greater good might be achieved

         a.      Lomborg’s argument that more people will be saved by CC than killed

                   i.       That although CC will lead to loss of life from heat stress, it will also lead to much greater decrease in mortality from cold during winter and this good outweighs the bad

                   ii.      This suggest killing some people to save (more) others

                   iii.     HR approach rejects this

15.    Response to since future will be better off than the past, we don’t need to (would be wrong to) mitigate CC

         a.      But even if this is true, if some in the future (the severely disadvantaged) will be deprived of their basic necessities for human life, HR approach says this is wrong

         b.      It establishes moral threshold below which persons are not allowed to fall (to be pushed)

16.    HR better deals with risk and uncertainty than CB, for CB would allow people to impose serious risks on others if the overall CB was positive, and HR would prevent this

         a.      CB deals with risk by saying figure out the utility/disutility of an event and multiply it by its probability to get expected utility

         b.      It doesn’t ask if those threatened by the risk are also those posing it or not and this is morally relevant

         c.      HR approach would condemn as unjust some (who are advantaged) exposing others (who are vulnerable) to risks that threaten the latter’s basic interests

         d.      E.g., If the world as a whole would benefit by having rich continue causing CC and having some poor suffer consequences



18.    Changes how we think of the about costs of mitigation and adaptationthey are irrelevant!

         a.      Some argue that extremely expensive to prevent dangerous climate change and so humanity should not do this

         b.      If CC violates HR, this reasoning inappropriate, costs are not relevant

         c.      E.g., Someone builds a factory next to others and it makes them sick, that it would be very costly for them to stop is irrelevant

         d.      E.g., That costly for slave owners to give up slavery irrelevant; violations of human rights must cease even if it is very costly to those who are doing the violating

         e.      **If emitting greenhouse gases results in rights violations, it should stop and fact it is expensive does not count against the claim

         f.       Compare Caney’s claims here with Shue’s factoring in the costs of addressing climate change to his argument about when one must act in conditions of uncertainty

19.    HR approach requires duties of compensation in addition to duties of mitigation and adaptation

         a.      If there is not enough mitigation or adaptation and people’s rights are violated, this must be redressed with compensation

20.    HR approach disallows notion that you can make it permissible to impose costs on people as long as you provide them compensating benefits

         a.      Can’t violate peoples rights and then justify it by compensating them (break their arms and justify this by giving them 1 million dollars)

21.    HR approach has implications for who should pay costs of mitigation and adaptation (not the most vulnerable)

         a.      Any program combating CC should not violate HR (of health, life and subsistence)

         b.      The least advantaged, those whose HR are most vulnerable, should not be required to bear burden of combating CC

22.    HR approach defines what it means to try to prevent dangerous CC, namely CC that would violate people’s rights.

Question on Caney Climate Change, Human Rights, and Moral Thresholds


1.      How is climate change an issue of international security?

2.         What are some of the possible benefits of CC?

3.         Explain the three fold distinction between mitigation, adaptation and compensation concerning CC.

4.         Define the notion of a “human right.” What sorts of moral approaches does it prevent?

5.         What is the difference between positive and negative rights? Which type does Caney’s arguments about CC rely on and why?

6.         Caney thinks CC violates 3 human rights. Identify them and then explain how Caney believes CC violates these rights. Does it matter for his argument that CC is anthropogenic (=human caused)?

7.         *Why does Lomborg claim more people will be saved by CC than killed? How does Caney’s human rights approach respond to this argument? Is this an effective response?

8.         What is a cost/benefit approach to climate change? What sorts of considerations does it ignore that a human rights approach pays attention to? (Hint: Distribution of cost/benefits and if costs push people below a threshold. Explain these.)

9.         How does Caney’s human rights approach deal with the costs responding to climate change? Explain his position.

10.       What role does compensation play in the human rights approach to CC? Does this approach agree with the idea imposing costs on people is permissible as long as you compensate them?