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Environmental Values

Bystanding and Climate Change

Carol Booth

Environmental Values 21 (2012): 397-416. doi: 10.3197/096327112X13466893627987


Most normative advice to individuals about what they should do to help prevent climate change focuses on reductions in personal emissions. This is consistent with an accountancy model of morality, with perpetrators held responsible for the harms they individually cause. An alternative focus receiving less popular and philosophical attention, but with greater potential to achieve substantial mitigation outcomes, is citizen activism for systemic reforms. Rather than perpetration (consisting of negligible contributions to climate change) priority moral concern can be directed to bystanding (as political passivity facilitating preventable and potentially catastrophic harms). To more effectively guide action, reformist ethics need to be informed by psychosociological research on motivation and societal transformation.


Climate change, mitigation, bystanding, citizen activism, morality

REFERENCES to other articles in Environmental Values:

Morality and Climate Change: Is Leaving your TV on Standby a Risky Behaviour? Catherine Butler

Climate, Collective Action and Individual Ethical Obligations. Marion Hourdequin

Climate Change and Individual Responsibility: A Reply to Johnson. Marion Hourdequin

Ethical Obligations in a Tragedy of the Commons. Baylor L. Johnson

The Possibility of a Joint Communiqué: My Response to Hourdequin. Baylor Johnson

Collective Environmental Virtue. David Clowney

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles

Editorial: Response and Responsibility. Clive L. Spash

Moderate Emissions Grandfathering. Carl Knight

Managing Climate Change: Shifting Roles for NGOs in the Climate Negotiations. Chandra Lal Pandey

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