IPAT-ethics: Some normative considerations with respect to reducing humanity's aggregate environmental impact

Wouter Peeters

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)


Despite the severity of the harms involved in climate change, there is a persisting lack of motivation to tackle the problem. This gap between moral judgment and motivation for action can be clarified by research in moral psychology on moral disengagement strategies: there are a number of psychological mechanisms by which people's moral self-reactive influences can be selectively disengaged from harmful conduct. The aim of this paper is to illustrate the persistence of these strategies on the individual level in the climate case and to trace the underlying foundations of the motivational gap.

Strategies of moral disengagement relate to the particular detrimental practices; the injurious effects; both practices and effects; or the victims. The first set can be illustrated by the fact that GHG emissions are characterized as a mere by-product of socially accepted daily activities in order to morally justify them. Second, scientific evidence is ignored, although such ignorance cannot remain excusable. Third, attributing blame to the carbon dependency of current economies displaces responsibility, although such exoneration cannot hold in view of the fact that GHG emitting activities are often determined by personal choice as well. Fourth, cost-benefit analyses and discounting ascribes less value to the rights of people the further they are into the future, thereby dehumanizing the future victims of climate change.

These moral disengagement strategies raise doubts about individual agency in the climate case, thereby preventing individual members of the (especially Western) consumption elites from having to take up profound and demanding responsibilities that question their values and lifestyles. Therefore, we will argue that the motivational gap can be linked to what we shall call "the primacy of individual freedoms over responsibilities" that can be attributed to the internalization of a liberal-capitalist worldview.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication12th World Congress of Bioethics
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Event12th World Congress of Bioethics - Mexico City, Mexico
Duration: 25 Jun 201428 Jun 2014


Conference12th World Congress of Bioethics
CityMexico City


  • climate change
  • individual agency
  • individual responsibility


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