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Le CRÉ et le GRÉEA sont heureux de recevoir Joseph Heath, de la University of Toronto, qui nous offrira une présentation intitulée: « Caring about climate change implies caring about economic growth ».
In this paper, I point out a tension between two commitments that are often held jointly by environmental ethicists. First, many are concerned about the effects of global warming, and believe that we should be engaged in resolute action to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Second, many believe that continuing the growth trajectory of the global economy is both undesirable and non-obligatory. Formulated in terms of an obligation to future generations, the view is that we owe it to future generations to prevent significant anthropogenic climate change, and yet we do not owe it to future generations to ensure that they receive the benefits of a growing economy. The problem with these two positions, held jointly, is that under all of the most probable scenarios, the benefits that we could be providing to future generations through ongoing economic growth are enormous, relative to the costs that will be imposed upon them by climate change. As a result, if we are under no obligation to maximize growth – indeed, if we are permitted to pass along to future generations an economy that will permit them to achieve a standard of living no greater than what we enjoy now, then by far the least costly course of action for us is to let climate change occur, then compensate future generations for the impact by making resources available to them to cover the costs of adaptation. Since this conclusion is, I believe, unacceptable, the analysis forces us to think more seriously about the moral significance of economic growth.