The Ethics of Climate Change: With a Little Help from Moral Cognitive Neuroscience

25 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2011 Last revised: 21 May 2013

Marco Grasso

Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca

Date Written: June 13, 2011


The moral essence of climate change relates to causing/suffering harm. In particular, carbon emissions that threaten the stability of climate systems, and the consequent harm inflicted by altered climatic dynamics on present and future generations are the moral facets of climate change. Moral cognitive neuroscience indicates that up close and personal harm triggers deontological moral reasoning, whereas harm originating from impersonal moral violations, like those of climate change, prompts consequentialist moral reasoning. Consequently, climate ethics should abandon common, unreliable, moral deontological intuitions and be based on welfare-improving consequentialist approaches. Because consequentialism is in line with the indications of moral cognitive neuroscience on moral processes and judgments, it is, in fact, closer to the inner nature of the morality of human beings in regard to climate change. Therefore, an approach inspired by it can ultimately prove more morally acceptable and politically feasible in this context, notwithstanding its apparent counter-intuitiveness.

Keywords: climate change, consequentialism, deontology, ethics, moral cognitive neuroscience

Suggested Citation

Grasso, Marco, The Ethics of Climate Change: With a Little Help from Moral Cognitive Neuroscience (June 13, 2011). CISEPS Research Paper No. 7/2011. Available at SSRN: or

Marco Grasso (Contact Author)

Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca ( email )

Piazza dell'Ateneo Nuovo, 1
Milano, Milan 20126

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