Green Moral Hazards

26 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2019

See all articles by Gernot Wagner

Gernot Wagner

New York University (NYU) - Department of Environmental Studies; New York University (NYU) - Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

Daniel Zizzamia

Harvard University

Date Written: November 13, 2019


Moral hazards are ubiquitous. Green ones typically involve technological fixes: Using technology to solve an environmental problem is morally fraught because it absolves actors from taking more difficult, disciplined steps towards a longer-lasting, systemic solution. Underneath this veneer of simplicity lies historically rooted complexity that makes moral-hazard arguments unhelpful guides for environmental policy and not just in a strictly utilitarian expected-value framework. The moral core of modern environmentalism—pure nature—is a chimera. Moreover, as environmentalism became an integral part of American culture, it engulfed a wide range of constituencies with diverse perspectives and political goals. When a green moral hazard is applied, its adherents attempt to wrestle with the chimera to make a political statement about the world. Thus, rather than retreating into the labyrinth of the green moral hazard and pitting technofixes against deeper systemic transformation, technofixes like geoengineering should be discussed out in the open in ways that encourage what philosopher Helen Longino labels, “transformative criticism.” Doing so would also greatly expand the attention paid to the underlying environmental problem in the first place, in essence using (solar) geoengineering to expand the broader climate conversation.

Keywords: risk compensation, environmentalism, nature, climate, technology, geoengineering

Suggested Citation

Wagner, Gernot and Zizzamia, Daniel, Green Moral Hazards (November 13, 2019). NYU Wagner Research Paper Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

Gernot Wagner (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Department of Environmental Studies ( email )

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New York University (NYU) - Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service ( email )

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New York, NY 10012
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Daniel Zizzamia

Harvard University

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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