3rd Annual JCT Workshop: Future Paths for staying within the planetary boundaries – June 2-3, 2023 @ University of Potsdam

The workshop is the third in a series of annual workshops of the network ‘Just Climate Transitions’ (https://justclimatetransitions.com/). The network and workshop bring together scholars that are interested in exploring normative and conceptual questions around social, economic, cultural, and political transitions due to climate change mitigation and adaption. While climate ethics are a well-established and important field within applied ethics, there has been less focus on the conditions of just transitions (vs end state theories of climate justice or backward-looking reparative theories). However, natural and social sciences point towards rapid societal changes that take place or are possible when societies deal with the effects of ongoing climate change. Often, the required changes have a high societal impact. Whole fields of employment, such as the coal and oil and gas industry, might disappear while other fields, such as wind and solar power, will be strengthened. Settlements might have to be relocated due to flood risk or desertification. Widespread everyday behaviors such as using cars, consuming energy, and eating meat might become more regulated or at least de-incentivized due to their impact on climate change. All of these changes produce burdens for some but often also gains for others. Moreover, they lead to a restructuring of our societies on a deep level – economic, social, and even cultural. We are interested in exploring how climate change responses (should) change how we relate to underlying, foundational concepts such as nature, time, autonomy, and responsibility but also how the burdens, and possible benefits, of material changes, e.g. a restructuring of the economy or land loss, can be justly distributed.


02.06.23: University of Potsdam, Campus Griebnitzsee, House 6, Room H01 (Station: S Griebnitzsee)

03.06.23: University of Potsdam, Campus Griebnitzsee, House 6, Room S27 (Station: S Griebnitzsee)

see site map (Lageplan)

Attendance is free but please register by 01.06.23:  https://forms.gle/rVarQuRrxRW5stWe7


Day 1 (02.06.2023)

The first day critically examines some of the concepts and ways of thinking that become especially relevant in the context of responding to global warming and the changes it brings.

09:30 – 10:00 Welcome

10:00 – 11:00 Darrel Moellendorf: Solidarity Failures at the Dawn of the Anthropocene.

A concept of solidarity emerged in the 19th century that remains valuable for international cooperation in the Anthropocene. The paper offers an account of the concept, especially as it applies to reasons for action. Solidarity provides agents with a distinct source of reasons to act when there is something to be gained by the successful struggle in the pursuit of a common interest. This is especially important when the risks of such action are significant. The paper argues that in the case of three important problems of the Anthropocene, climate change mitigation, Covid 19 vaccine distribution, and climate change adaptation, the countries of the world have failed to act on reasons of international solidarity with terrible effect. It diagnosis the reasons for this failure as lying in features of the international state system and private economic interest.

11:15 – 12:15 Maria Skoutaridou: “It is my fault”. Climate change and the atomised self: A response to Kingston & Sinnott-Armstrong

Maria Skoutaridou’s paper engages with one such hindrance. She argues that even if it is collective, rather than individual actions, that bear the most moral weight in climate change discussions, it is still important to understand what has led us to our current predicament and how we can prevent further damage to the environment. She diagnoses as the root problem the concept of the atomised self, which is prominent in liberal democratic societies and which prevents us from perceiving ourselves as part of a social whole, thus having duties towards the survival of the collective.

12:30 – 13:30 Anna Wienhues: The ‘Global duties – Local burdens’ Problem for Just Biodiversity Conservation

In her paper, Anna Wienhues approaches the problem of an existing discrepancy between global justice theorising and local conditions which is still undertheorized in the wider debate around just biodiversity conservation and burden-sharing of its costs. Taking a common approach to environmental and interspecies distributive justice that relies on the distribution of ecological space as an example, she explains why this problem arises from the incongruity between the currency of justice (ecological space) in the global-abstract and the local-particular (the conceptual problem). Cultural costs, in turn, are argued to be essential to understanding the central moral concern at stake.

13:30 – 14:45 Lunch

14:45 – 15:45 Kendall Gardner: Unstable Geography: Creating a Critical Theory of Land in the Age of Anthropocene

As small-island states and coastal communities face permanent inundation, political theorists have taken up the challenge of forming a cogent theory of climate displacement, mostly focusing on climate migration, with increasing urgency. However, though this literature recognises a background condition of “territorial instability,” it largely fails to engage with this condition on its own terms. This paper seeks to redress this issue by integrating the empirical reality of climate-related land loss into our understanding of land as a political and economic concept. In other words, this paper aims to take impermanence seriously as one of land’s core characteristics and asks how we might rethink our land-based political assumptions to accommodate this reality. By focusing on the integral role of land in political theories of property and sovereignty, Kendall Gardner aims to unveil a reliance on an imagined condition of stability in liberal thinking, which ultimately obscures the fundamental character of land as unstable, changing, and fluid.

To highlight the stakes of this argument, Kendall Gardner will engage with the work of Anna Stilz, who crafts a defence of the territorial state system that attempts to accommodate and resolve the challenges posed by climate displacement. However, it will be argued that her argument relies upon the very conditions of stability she aims to theorise beyond. Finally, through postcolonial critique, the paper aims to show that the liberal deployment of imagined conditions of land stability is no accident. Instead, it will be argued for the coterminous construction of the liberal land variable through colonial dispossession, a process mediated by abstraction, alienation, and imagined (stable) geography.

16:00 – 17:00 Lorina Buhr, Ben Hofbauer: Irreversibility as a key concept for research on climatic and environmental changes and boundaries

Lorina Buhr  and Ben Hofbauer trace the intellectual history of another concept that has risen to prominence in climate debates: irreversibility. They examine the concepts usages, semantic functions, and conceptual contexts of the term irreversibility, as well as normative implications and strategies in the usage of the terminology. Their paper systematically records and analyzes how a concept of natural philosophy, theoretical physics, and chemistry has found its way into debates on human-induced environmental change and which conceptual and normative questions this raises.

18:00 Dinner


Day 2 (03.06.2023)

The second day takes a closer look at conditions for just climate transitions and the principles of burden-sharing and responsibility in this context.

10:15 – 11:15 Jeremy Moss: Who’s to Blame? Distributing Responsibility for Climate Harms?

Jeremy Moss also discusses the question of responsibility but focuses on what he calls ‘indirect emitters.’ His claim is that philosophers and others have misunderstood how responsibility for climate harms ought to be attributed, that the responsibility of indirect emitters is high, and that taking their contribution into account greatly alters the allocation of responsibility between different actors and, importantly, the consequences that follow for climate action.

11:30 – 12:30 Laura García Portela, Eike Düvel: Normative emissions accounting. Who is the normatively relevant polluter?

Laura Garcia Portela and Eike Duvel’s paper directly connects to this discussion as they analyze who the normatively relevant polluters are. They criticize approaches that hold that emissions accounting mechanisms should be guided by broader justice considerations, such as who has the capacity to bear climate policy-related burdens that would follow the allocation of emissions. Instead, they argue, the question of who the normatively relevant polluter is should be central as it is the normative foundation for the Polluter Pays Principle which in turn is central for posing the emissions accounting question in the first place.

12:30 – 13:45 Lunch

13:45 – 14:45 Elisa Paiusco: A Capabilities Approach to Carbon Dioxide Removal

Elisa Paiusco broadens the debate by including future generations into the debate of who is responsible to do what and how much. She posits that the technology of carbon-dioxide removal will become necessary to stay within the planetary boundaries but poses risks to basic needs of either current or future generations. She proposes that a sufficientarian focus on poverty alleviation is insufficient in this debate and should be replaced by a capabilities approach to analyse the needs and risks of capability failures in mitigation scenarios involving overshoot.

15:00 – 16:00 Steve Vanderheiden: Reconfiguring Progress for a Post-Growth Planetary Future

Steve Vanderheiden takes issue with a specific aspect of economic theory, progress as quantitative economic growth, which he sees as influencing even non-economic ideals and concepts of progress. Building on the idea of sustainable progress, he examines several of these ideals and economic progress surrogates in terms of their recognition of planetary boundaries and their incorporation of ecological limits but also in their relationships with ideals of justice and equality. He identifies several sticking points, where the ideal each offers retains some residue of the growth imperative that it aims to displace, noting the importance of this project for social and political theory while also suggesting strategies for constructively continuing it.


This conference is supported by The Society for Applied Philosophy and the Gesellschaft für Analytische Philosophie.

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