The Ethics of Distribution in a Warming Planet

48 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2009

See all articles by John E. Roemer

John E. Roemer

Yale University - Department of Political Science; Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Date Written: April 9, 2009

Abstract

The discounted-utilitarian social welfare function (DU) is used by the great majority of researchers studying intergenerational resource allocation in the presence of climate change (e.g., W. Nordhaus, M. Weitzman, N. Stern, and P. Dasgupta). I present three justifications for using DU: (1) the view that the first generation's preferences should be hegemonic, (2) the viewpoint of a utilitarian Ethical Observer who maximizes expected utility when the existence of future generations is uncertain, and (3) axiomatic justifications (as in classical social-choice theory). I argue that only justification (2) provides an ethically convincing justification, and that, only if one endorses utilitarianism as a good ethic. Recent work by Llavador, Roemer and Silvestre challenges the utilitarian assumption, and argues that sustaining human welfare at the highest possible level forever, or sustaining the growth rate of human welfare (at a fixed exogenous growth rate), are more attractive ethical choices. The work of these authors, which studies the optimal intergenerational paths of resource allocation under the sustainabilitarian objectives, is briefly reviewed and contrasted with the discounted-utilitarian approach.

Keywords: Climate change, Intergenerational justice, Sustainability, Utilitarianism

JEL Classification: D70, D90, D63

Suggested Citation

Roemer, John E., The Ethics of Distribution in a Warming Planet (April 9, 2009). Cowles Foundation Discussion Paper No. 1693. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1375565

John E. Roemer (Contact Author)

Yale University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Box 208269
New Haven, DC 06520-8269
United States
203-432-5249 (Phone)
203-432-6196 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~jer39/

Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Box 208281
New Haven, CT 06520-8281
United States

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