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Stephen Gardiner's "Ethics and Global Climate Change"


Global warming is all about the gradual increase in the average temperature of the atmosphere, the Earth’s surface, and oceans. It is believed that this kind of change is likely to permanently alter the climate of the Earth. Although there is a great debate as to whether global warming is real or not, climate scientists agree with the fact that the planet is actually getting warmer. According to scientists, the average temperature of the Earth seems to have risen approximately from 0.4 to 0.8 degrees centigrade over the past century. Due to the fact that the rich nations contribute a lot to the increase in global warming, Stephen Gardiner is of the view that richer nations ought to pay most of the costs of addressing global warming.

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Gardiner’s Strongest Reasons for Believing This

According to Gardiner, the whole world needs to take decisive actions on climate change since it is morally vital. However, the key question is who ought to take responsibility. This is mainly due to the fact that the core ethical concern in relation to global warming is the rationale of allocating the costs as well as the benefits of the greenhouse gases and abatement (Winston & Edelbach, 2009). In this regard, Gardiner argues that there is a unanimous agreement among many stakeholders that the developed countries ought to take the lead responsibility in bearing the costs of climate change.

One of the key reasons why the developed countries should bear the greatest responsibility regarding the costs of climate change is justified by the fact that the developed nations are responsible for a larger percentage of the historical emissions. As a result, it is not logical to disproportionately impose the responsibilities on the poorer nations whose emissions are less, as compared to the rich nations (Winston & Edelbach, 2009).

By and large, the historical principles of justice are also brought into play in this matter. This is because it is vital for one to clean up his/her own mess. In this regard, the mechanized nations ought to bear the costs imposed by their emissions in the past (Winston & Edelbach, 2009). Additionally, since the planet Earth has a limited capacity to absorb the greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere, it is just logical for a fair allocation of how this limited capacity is used (Winston & Edelbach, 2009).

In this regard, since it is clear that the developed nations have fundamentally used up the capacity in the process of industrializing, it is just logical to grant the developing nations their fair share. In this way, justice necessitates that the developed countries should come in to pay the costs to the poorer countries for this overdue (Winston & Edelbach, 2009).

Why Gardiner’s Arguments are Collectively Persuasive

In many ways, Gardiner’s views are collectively persuasive. It is understood that there has been an increase in the use of tropical forest lands for palm oil plantations over the past years, a phenomenon that is common in the developed world. Consequently, this has led to the destruction of forest covers to create land for the cultivation of palm oil plantations. Eventually, deforestation results in the emission of colossal amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment as well as it results in the decrease of the amount of carbon that is captured by the forests. The developed world also has a strong appetite for wood and paper products, thus resulting in massive deforestation.

A number of researches have been done regarding the real causes of global warming. According to climate scientists, one of the key sources of global warming is the discharge of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel-burning power plants. This mainly results from the world’s addiction to electricity, which is generated from the burning of fossil fuels. By and large, power plants that are used are very instrumental in releasing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

It is estimated that about 40% of carbon dioxide released in the United States is due to the generation of electricity. Additionally, 93% of emissions come from the burning of coal, which is prevalent in the electric utility industry. It is also worth noting that the high dependency on burning coal for domestic and commercial supply of electricity seriously hurts the environment. It is therefore logical for the richer nations to pay most of the costs for solving the problem of global warming.

There has been an increase in the use of fertilizers, over the past few years mainly on large crop plantations, in areas that previously had forest covers in several developed nations. This is prevalent in South America where the Amazon forest is being wiped out to pave the way for sugar, soya bean, and coffee plantations, which are mainly exported to the developed nations.

The increase in the use of nitrogen-rich fertilizers has an effect on the storage of croplands leading to the creation of the so-called dead zones. This is because the excess fertilizers are washed into oceans. In addition, high nitrate levels in the groundwater come as a result of over-fertilization, which is a major cause of concern about the overall health of humanity.


It is widely believed that although global warming affects every part of the world, it, however, does not affect everyone equally. It is therefore vital to reasonably distribute the costs of addressing the issue by looking into all the contributory factors. All in all, it is quite unreasonable to simply allocate economic costs of global warming uniformly per capita. This is because it is just logical to consider aspects like levels of benefit, contribution to the crisis, and the levels of sacrifice when calculating the economic costs of reversing global warming as well as preventing further harm to the environment. In many ways, a pluralistic view of fairness ought to be used in a reasonable distribution of costs. Since the richer nations have largely contributed to the crisis, it is, therefore, logical that they ought to pay more to address the costs of reversing global warming (Winston & Edelbach, 2009).


Winston, M. E. & Edelbach, R. D. (2009). Society, Ethics, and Technology. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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