Fragmentation, Morality, and the Law of Global Warming

78 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2007

See all articles by Sarah Krakoff

Sarah Krakoff

University of Colorado Law School

Date Written: March 22, 2007


Two narratives have dominated the discussion of global warming in the United States. The first is the narrative of undue uncertainty, which has exaggerated the kinds and extent of uncertainty about whether humans are causing global warming. The second is the rational choice narrative, which has emphasized the difficult collective action features of global warming at the expense of the many stories about how local governments and individuals are nonetheless getting on with the business of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The rational choice narrative is often buttressed by the undue uncertainty narrative, and the result has been that many important decision-makers, including federal courts, have engaged in various strategies of moral corruption to avoid doing anything to act on the most significant environmental challenge humans have ever faced. The temporal and spatial lags in global warming's causes and effects heighten its perceived collective action features, and also render it difficult for many to perceive as a moral issue. A reframing is required. Global warming, as philosophers, academics, and activists have argued, poses important moral questions about obligations to people of other nations, different species, and future generations. Our inaction on global warming will leave these disparate and distant groups with problems that they cannot have prevented and that will be far worse due to our neglect. What is required is a vision of the self that is equal to the challenge of global warming. That vision is all around us, in that we, as a descriptive matter, live lives that are highly fragmented. We have commitments and obligations that are far flung and dispersed in time and space. Emphasizing a morality of fragmentation, which exists in many quarters, will clarify the moral corruptions and cognitive distortions that have prevented both courts and policy makers from moving forward with national policies to address global warming. If, on the other hand, the rational choice narrative (with its rational shopper vision of the self,) emerges triumphant, future generations may well look back on us and wonder how such a technologically brilliant society could have been so morally bereft.

Keywords: global warming, moral corruption, ethics, environmental law

JEL Classification: K32, K49

Suggested Citation

Krakoff, Sarah, Fragmentation, Morality, and the Law of Global Warming (March 22, 2007). University of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-10, Available at SSRN: or

Sarah Krakoff (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

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