The Environment and Global Justice

Tuesday, August 9, 2005
First Aired: 
Tuesday, September 28, 2004

What Is It

Our current way of life is unsustainable. Depletion of the ozone layer,  the dwindling of the rain forest, the loss of animal habitat, and toxic runoff into lakes, streams and rivers are just a few of the environmental challenges we face. The environment is a global problem that no one nation can address on its own. Something must give, somewhere. But who will pay what costs for improving the global environment? Wealthy nations of the North? Developing nations of the South?  By what principles of justice shall we decide? John and Ken take justice into their own hands with Larry Goulder from Stanford University.

Listening Notes

The lifestyles of the first-world countries seem to have a large effect on the environment. Should we change our lifestyles to help preserve the environment? Should developing nations adopt environmentally friendly policies and skip the period of relatively destructive policies? Ken introduces Larry Goulder, Professor of Economics at Stanford. Goulder says that our current way of life is not environmentally sustainable, for either the richer countries or the third-world countries. Historical considerations lead him to think that the richer countries should be the first ones to transition to environmentally friendly policies and technologies.

Should we be developing new environmentally friendly technologies? Should we provide these technologies to developing countries? Doesn't Rawls's theory of justice apply internationally? Goulder discusses Rawls's difference principle, which states that resources should be evenly divided except when giving more resources to a particular individual would benefit the least well off group. Goulder says that we need to consider externalities, the social cost of using something over and above its market price. In the absence of an international court, can countries be made to offset the costs of avoiding environmentally destructive industry, like deforestation in Brazil? Goulder thinks that there are circumstances in which it is in everyone's best interest to do so.

Do countries have obligations to people that are not their citizens? Most theories of justice are geared towards dealing with problems within a single nation. Does justice entail obligations to future generations, meaning that we must leave the world in good enough condition for future generations? Should the richer countries be forced to pay reparations to countries in the Southern Hemisphere for environmental damages? Goulder thinks that that idea is not feasible.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:25):  Amy Standen interviews Jennifer Turner, coordinator of the China Environment Forum, about the Chinese auto and oil markets.
  • Philosophy Talk Goes to the Movies (Seek to 46:50):  John and Ken discuss the existential and moral dimensions of Spider Man II.