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Sustainable Consumption, Climate Change and Future Generations

  • Dieter Helm (a1)

What makes climate change such a difficult problem to solve is that it is so pervasive: it is global but with very different effects on regions and nations. It stretches through time to many future generations. Its causes are ultimately the growth of population, the structure of production and growing consumption: greater numbers require ever more to make them happy.

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2 There are of course numerous shades of green, depending on the view taken of the hardness of the constraints on economic growth. Here a simplified and stylised ‘straw man’ is used for exposition purposes.

3 The concept of market failure begs the question: failure in respect of what? In mainstream neo-classical economics, the answer is: the Walrasian general equilibrium model of perfect competition, which is also Pareto optimal.

4 Commission Brundtland, Our common future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

5 Stern N., The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

6 Ramsey F.P., ‘A Mathematical Theory of Saving’, Economic Journal, 38 (1928), 543–59.

7 Op. cit., 543.

8 D.R. Helm (2011), ‘Peak Oil and Energy Policy – a critique’, Forthcoming in Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Vol 26, Issue 4.

9 Jevons W., The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines (London: Macmillan and Co. 1865).

10 The range of views between the two extremes is represented by different green positions.

11 Helm D.R. (2010), ‘Rethinking the Economic Borders of the State’, London, Social Market Foundation, November.

12 Helm D. R., Smale R., and Phillips J., Too Good to be True? The UK's Climate Change Record (2007, December).

13 N. Stern, op. cit, 35.

14 ‘We sympathise more with persons contiguous to us, than with persons remote from us: With our acquaintance, than with strangers: With our countrymen, than with foreigners… The approbation of moral qualities most certainly is not deriv'd from reason, or any comparison of ideas; but proceeds entirely from a moral taste, and from certain sentiments of pleasure of disgust, which arise upon the contemplation and view of particular qualities or characters. Now ‘tis evident, that those sentiments, whence-ever they are deriv'd must vary according to the distance or contiguity of the objects; nor can I feel the same lively pleasure from the virtues of a person, who liv'd in Greece two thousand years ago, that I feel from the virtues of a familiar friend and acquaintance.’ Hume D., A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects, Volume II: Passions – Morals (A new edition, London: Thomas and Joseph Allman, 1817), 308309.

15 Rawls J., A Theory of Justice,(Harvard, Harvard University Press, 1971).

16 Adam Smith, ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’, 1759.

17 Weitzman M. L., ‘Why the Far-Distant Future Should Be Discounted at Its Lowest Possible Rate’, Journal Of Environmental Economics And Management, 36 (1998), 201208.

18 F. A. Hayek, ‘Individualism and Economic Order’, (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949).

19 K. R. Popper, ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’ (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1945)

20 Burke Edmund, Reflections on the Revolution in France [1790] (Penguin Classics, 1986)

21 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Draft decision -/CP.15 Proposal by the President: Copenhagen Accord, (Conference of the Parties Fifteenth session, Copenhagen, 7–18 December 2009, document FCCC/CP/2009/L.7).

22 Tol R., ‘Estimates of the Damage Costs of Climate Change. Part 1: Benchmark Estimates’, Environmental and Resource Economics, 21 (2002), 4773.

23 Tol R., ‘The Economic Effects of Climate Change’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 23 (2009), 2951.

1 I have greatly benefitted from comments and discussions with David Wiggins and Cameron Hepburn. The views and errors here remain mine alone.

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Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
  • URL: /core/journals/royal-institute-of-philosophy-supplements
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