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Do parents have a special duty to mitigate climate change?

Wednesday 22 February 2017, 16.15-17.45
Social Science Building (SSB) 14.33
Elizabeth Cripps (University of Edinburgh)
Political Theory and Cultural Values research seminars (joint seminar with Centre for Ethics and Metaethics)


This paper argues that parents have a special, shared duty to organise for collective action on climate change mitigation and adaptation. They have this over and above more general duties of justice or humanity that we all have to do so. However, they have it not for the apparently most obvious reasons. The obvious argument appeals to children’s uncontroversially central interests, such as life, health, and community, which are threatened by climate change. While it goes beyond many standard models of parental duties to include protection against such harms in adulthood, this is plausible. However, a duty to protect one’s own children in this narrow sense need not imply a duty to mitigate it. Rather, the shared duty follows from the indirect interest that today’s children have in not seeing their immediate descendants condemned to great suffering, and in reconciling their own interests and relationships with the perspective of the moral agent. These are such important aspects of a human life that parents have a duty to protect them for their children, if reasonably possible through individual or collective action. Mitigation and adaptation are also required to fulfil duties owed, at least arguably, to more distant descendants.


Elizabeth Cripps took her first degree in PPE at St John’s College, Oxford. She spent four years as a journalist, primarily for the Financial Times Group, before returning to academia in 2003. She completed her PhD and held a part-time lectureship in in political philosophy (2007-2008) at University College London. Elizabeth joined Edinburgh University in 2008 on a fixed term lectureship in political theory, then held a British Academy postdoctoral fellowship from 2009-2012. Elizabeth’s primary research interests are climate change ethics and justice, population justice, and parental duties. Her monograph, Climate Change and the Moral Agent, defends a weakly collective duty to organise to tackle global climate change, then outlines the implications for individual moral agents. She is currently exploring the intersect between population ethics and climate and global justice, and that between climate duties and parental obligations.
Her British Academy postdoctoral fellowship was for the project “Collective Action, Collective Responsibility and a New Environmental Ethics”. Her PhD thesis, “Individuals, Society and the World: A Defence of Collective Environmental Duties”, defended a collective duty to establish global level environmental institutions.

Website:   Twitter: @ebcripps