4th Annual JCT Workshop: Sustainability in the Anthropocene – June 11-12, 2024 @ University of Potsdam 

Location: University of Potsdam, Campus Griebnitzsee, House 7 Room 0.13

To receive the pre-circulated papers for the conference, please register your interest with your name and affiliation at justclimatetransitions@gmail.com.



10:00 Welcome (Coffee and tea from 09:45)

10:15 – 11:50 Sustainability and Territorial Rights

Moderator: Kathleen Wallace

Jonathan Kwan (NYU Abu Dhabi): Ecological Sustainability: A People’s Self-Regarding Duty as an Intergenerational Group

I argue for a conception of ecological sustainability as a collective self-regarding duty that a people, understood as an intergenerational group and territorial rights holder, has as a precondition for and a constitutive part of its right to self-determination. This view does not preclude the existence of other duties of sustainability held by other agents or grounded in values distinct from self-determination (e.g., global justice or non-anthropocentric values). Nonetheless, this way of framing a duty of sustainability is distinct from and has certain advantages over other more familiar conceptions. First, here the duty of sustainability is not a duty that one generation owes another, which raises certain puzzles about how to conceptualize the rights of future generations that do not yet exist. Instead, the duty of sustainability is one that a people—already understood as an intergenerational group—owes itself and is grounded in the right to self-determination that a people claims for itself. Both the social ontology of the people as intergenerational and the normative right of self-determination, which involves the right to decide the trajectory of a people’s common destiny, have futural elements built into them that serve to ground a duty of ecological sustainability. Additionally, insofar as the people can be conceptualized as a multispecies community (as many Indigenous conceptions of peoplehood emphasize), this view need not be committed to an anthropocentric conception of sustainability as valuable only for the protection of human interests. Second, my account straightforwardly avoids nonidentity problems, which beset positions that conceptualizes sustainability duties as owed to future individuals, since current environmental policies, while likely necessary conditions for the very existence of certain future individuals, are generally not necessary conditions for future peoples coming into existence. Finally, by grounding a duty of sustainability in the value of self-determination, my view shows that the debate on intergenerational justice should be expanded to consider values other than justice. The point and meaningfulness of sustainability is not always best understood as oriented toward justice (which is often framed in terms of the claims of others competing against ours) but rather is often tied to our hopes and aspirations as a community extended across time and related to other inhabitants of our shared ecosystems.

Kerstin Reibold (UiT Norway): Sustainability, agency, and non-interference. Some mistakes in conceptualizing land.

11:50 – 13:00 Lunch

13:00 – 14:35 Human-nature relationships and their implications for environmental politics

Moderator: Fabian Schuppert

Lukas Tank; Christian Baatz (CAU Kiel): Carbon Dioxide Removal and the Domination of Nature Critique

One of the most fundamental arguments against the use of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is that doing so amounts to a morally problematic form of asserting dominance over nature. Remarks along the lines of ‘meddling with nature has brought us here, surely engaging in a new form of meddling is not the way forward’ are reported as common by CDR scholars engaging with policy circles and the wider public. More sophisticated versions of the same worry are reported in the academic literature, sometimes, but not always, taking the form of an accusation of hubris (e.g. Jamieson 1996, Preston 2011, Heyward 2019). In this talk we aim to show why an argument along these lines is not convincing as a blanket critique of using CDR. Our response comes in two steps: first of all, what must be admitted is that intervening into the Earth’s climate system is indeed a far-reaching intervention into nature. However, CDR is (or at least can be) a particular form of intervening into nature, namely a remedial one that comes in response to our present interference in the form of anthropogenic climate change. Even if one is committed to a position which states that ideally humans should ‘let nature be nature’ as far as that is still possible, remedial interventions plausibly should be exempted from critique. Second, proponents of the domination of nature critique have responded to this move by pointing out how CDR, even though remedial in character, is especially problematic since it constitutes an intentional intervention into nature. CDR users intervene into basic mechanisms of the Earth system not just knowingly, but precisely with the aim to alter them from their current course. We counter this point by explaining how there is no good reason to think that remedial actions should be considered problematic just because of their intentional character. Considerations refering to the way CDR interacts with nature may very well guide us in choosing which forms of CDR (not) to pursue, but are not fit to serve as a blanket critique of all forms of CDR.

Giulia Leonetti, Viola Di Tullio (IUSS Pavia): Rethinking Sustainability through Ecological Justice: A Focus on Biodiversity, Plants, and Climate Change

In the context of ecological justice, it is crucial to rethink a concept of sustainability suitable to address the issue of climate change. Humans and all the other species on the Earth are strongly interconnected (Flint et al. 2013). For this reason, harm to one part would damage the whole system. In this work, we will first discuss the value of biodiversity and the relationship between biodiversity and ecological justice, which are closely interconnected (Washington et al. 2024). Due to the biodiversity loss, the characteristics and the balance of ecosystems are changing. Consequently, the notion of ecological justice becomes crucial. In addition, practices of environmental injustice such as deforestation and pollution make biological communities vulnerable, demanding new ethical approaches. We will argue that to address these issues we should adopt a non-anthropocentric approach (Kopnina et al. 2023) to sustainability. Then, we will discuss the moral consideration of natural entities, such as plants, in the framework of ecological justice. In the second part, we will debate the role of plants (Kallhoff et al. 2018) in biodiversity conservation practices and we will argue that plants are active participants rather than passive objects in the making of ecosystems and landscapes (Sullivan 2010). We will conclude that this perspective is crucial in rethinking a concept of sustainability fit to address the challenge of climate change.

14:50 – 16:25 What and whom should sustainable policies protect?

Moderator: Clare Heyward

Daniel Petz (Universitas Gadjah Mada): The currency of sustainability: Basic needs or capabilities?

Recent decades have seen a backlash against utilitarian and monetary approaches to measure well-being and alternative currencies of justice have gathered increasing traction in the sustainable development discourse. In particular, basic needs and capabilities have been brought forward as alternatives. The Brundtland report, a founding document of the sustainability discourse, argues, for example, that both the needs of present and future generations need to be met through sustainable development. Thus, needs have never fully disappeared from the sustainability discourse and in recent years gained quite some traction in scholarly circles (for example, Gough, 2017; Millward-Hopkins et al. 2020). Alternatively, both in academia and practice, capabilities have been proposed as a fitting currency to measure human development and to deal with sustainability issues (for example, UNDP 2020, Raworth 2021). Building on the background assumption that sustainability in the coming decades will mean significant change of social, consumption and mobility patterns, this paper discusses advantages and challenges of either currency when applied to sustainability in the context of the climate crisis. While likely providing viable alternatives, it argues that there might be pitfalls in using either currency, depending on how the currencies are specified, with either currency having the potential to be abused to foster the interests of current generations over those of future generations. Looking at a number of specific examples it discusses how certain challenges and pitfalls could be addressed via appropriate specification of lists, thresholds, and distributive rules to handle issues of scarcity.

Felix Westeren (LSE): Future Autonomy and Trusteeship

Our generation is faced with a number of important future-affecting decisions. Some of the most important concern our response to climate change. How quickly we reduce our emissions, how well we can protect ecosystems from the effects of climate change and what things we choose to preserve into the future will have a very significant impact on the lives people are able to live in the future. Even relatively small policy changes can have large future effects. The contention of this paper is that, if we (as we should) care about the ability of future people to lead autonomous lives, then we need some method of judging our actions for their effects on future autonomy. I propose and defend one such principle, the Trusteeship Principle. I also defend the idea that future people are owed, as a matter of justice, extensive autonomy rights that go beyond the satisfaction of their basic needs. Indeed, the Principle I defend depends on an expansive but, I think, defensible view of the autonomy-related interests and rights of future people. In particular, I defend the idea that future people have rights against us interfering with the formation and the pursuit of their conceptions of the good. We violate the former rights when we improperly influence the conceptions of the good of future people, and the latter when we do not leave them the options they need for the effective exercise of their autonomy. I argue that since future people do not yet exist, we must hold these rights in trust on their behalf, and that this has important consequences for how we ought to approach decisions that will affect them.



10:00 Coffee and tea

10:15 – 11:50: Legal and societal transformations for sustainability

Moderator: Petra Gümplová

Michael Keary (Research Institute for Sustainability–Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, Germany): Transformational Technology and the Green Political Community: Rethinking Green Political Theory for the Digital Transition

Digitalisation is one of the major processes shaping the contemporary world. It is also a major research focus across a whole range of academic disciplines. Yet political theory has little to say about it. It is especially surprising that green political theory has yet to engage in significant analysis of it. Digitalisation is seen by countless scholars and policymakers as key to resolving the environmental crisis. Moreover, digitalisation is heralded as a new technological ecosystem, one that is replacing the technology against which green thought has defined itself from its beginning. This article thus asks what digitalisation means for green political theory. To answer, the article employs a concept-based approach to ecologism, inspired by Freeden’s analysis of ideology. It finds the most optimistic appraisals of digitalisation’s green credentials to be dubious, but also that some digital technologies may have a place in a green political community. Digitalisation enlivens the debate about the proper scale of a green political community, challenges advocates of a green deliberative democracy, and forces us to reengage with debates about the meaning of nature. Throughout, the article highlights the many questions digitalisation raises for green beliefs and values and describes the research agenda that must be pursued if greens are to answer them.

Daniela Winkler (Stuttgart University):

Property rights have been the subject of constitutional debate ever since the concept of fundamental rights emerged in political theory. While Thomas Hobbes declared the protection of property (as well as life and health) to be the legitimation of absolutism, John Locke developed property as a highly personal right. The special importance of property rights in the constitutional debate is highlighted in the statement of the Constitution of St Paul’s Church that Property is inviolable. This is an expression of the fact that, historically, constitutional processes are mainly driven by the bourgeoisie, whose main interest was the protection of property. The German Basic Law guarantees property rights in Article 14. The interpretation of Article 14 German Basic Law mostly emphasises the right to deal with property as one pleases. The restriction contained in the constitutional text (para. 2 of Article 14), that property is also an obligation and should serve the common good, gains little significance in the interpretation by constitutional lawyers and judges.

The climate crisis in particular, but also the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine or the health crisis caused by Corona, have shown that an unaccountable use of property can cause damage to the public. In this sense, property rights can encourage unsustainable behaviour. This is leading to a debate about a new understanding of property that doesn’t emphasise the right to act egocentrically, but the obligation to use property responsibly. There are two questions: First, are there goods (such as the atmosphere or groundwater) that are excluded from private property use, so that any activity that touches them requires special permission? Second, what are the constitutional limits (e.g. Article 20a of the German Constitution and the intertemporal civil rights derived from it) on the use of property rights?

11:50 – 13:00 Lunch

13:00 – 14:35 Holding high-emitters responsible

Moderator: Kerstin Reibold

Fausto Corvino (UC Louvain): The normative case for carbon limits

In the climate ethics literature, luxury emissions are usually described in contrast to subsistence emissions, i.e. those emissions necessary to meet a set of basic needs. The normative claim that usually accompanies the distinction between luxury and subsistence emissions is that it is unjust to realise the former if it takes away carbon space from the latter – and the recent philosophical debate focuses on empirical questions about whether and to what extent it is still necessary to emit GHGs to meet basic needs, and what part of the GHG budget must be reserved for subsistence emissions. This article argues that there are compelling normative reasons to implement carbon limits, i.e. to prohibit and/or strongly discourage luxury emissions, regardless of whether this serves to free up space for subsistence emissions or not. First, some emission-generating functionings of the rich produce a disproportionate amount of GHGs without generating significant increases in welfare, if we measure it in terms of multi-level capabilities, and this is a gross waste of the GHG budget. Second, many of the emission-generating functionings of the rich are highly positional. Therefore, foreclosing the capabilities of the rich to realise some luxury functionings is a way of safeguarding the GHG budget at zero or near-zero cost to society. Thirdly, the luxury emissions associated with the visible functionings of the rich create behavioural externalities in that they drive the immediately lower income group, i.e. the near-rich, to realise larger (and thus in many cases more polluting) functionings in order to maintain their social status, and thus down the social scale in an expenditure cascade. Because of this trickle-down effect, luxury emissions create a double climate problem. In the absence of ambitious mitigation policies, they push the non-rich to expand their carbon footprint. In the presence of ambitious policies, instead, such as a relatively high and uniform carbon price, luxury emissions (which the rich can defend because of their wealth) make it more costly for the non-rich to reduce their carbon footprint because of the resulting loss of social status (measured in terms of distance from the top income group).

Eugen Pissarskoi (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology): Non-compliers with climate mitigation obligations: how to identify them

A climate policy goal such as the 1.5°C target can be achieved only collectively, that is, only if a sufficiently large group of agents – individuals, corporations, national states – contribute their fair share towards the goal, i.e. that they appropriately reduce their greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. In the field of climate politics, not all nation states contribute the share to the collective goal which they ought to contribute (van den Berg et al. (2020); up-to-date data on: https://climateactiontracker.org). Under these circumstances, the question arises what moral agents who are interested in meeting the requirement from intergenerational justice – the compliers – ought to do. Some scholars have argued that compliers have the duty to take up the slack, i.e. to contribute more to the common goal than the share one is obliged to under full compliance (e.g. Stemplowska 2016). Others have defended the opposite claim that the obligations of the compliers do not change but that rather the overall moral obligations change  – regrettably as it is, we must accept that the overall moral goal cannot be collectively achieved (e.g. Miller 2011). Focusing on climate politics, Simon Caney (2020) has argued for a prima facie `right to resist moral injustices’ which provides a normative justification for a further option of reaction which I call `urging’: undertaking collective action to bring non-compliers to act according to what is morally required from them (c.f. Caney, 2016). In this text, I address a challenge for the option of urging which arises when it comes to identification of non-compliers. The challenge results from disagreements about moral duties to climate mitigation of particular nation states.

A necessary condition for legitimacy of urging an agent, as I shall argue, is the agent’s contribution to what Rawls (1971, 57) has called `substantial and clear’ injustice. However, justification of the individual obligation to climate change mitigation presupposes two normative premises which are controversial both in public and academic debates: these premises specify a principle for distribution of future risks and a principle for distribution of mitigation burdens. Because of this disagreement, it remains unclear whether a moral agent who complies with a mitigation share consistent with some of the controversial principles clearly commits an injustice. Therefore it remains unclear whether the necessary condition for legitimacy of urging is met. Germany is an instance of this ambiguity: according to the declared plans of the German Federal government, it aims at cutting national emissions in an amount which complies with its fair-share based on some principles for global and intertemporal distribution. However, Germany’s plans do not comply with their fair-share derived from other, prima facie reasonable, principles for global and intertemporal distribution. In this paper, I specify and defend two second-order principles which justify how to identify non-compliers in the light of a disagreement about principles for distribution of intertemporal and global obligations.

14:50 – 15:35 Jeremy Moss (University of New South Wales): Climate and sustainability

This paper will discuss the challenges of climate-related losses of sustainability. The paper will discuss two normative issues for discussions of sustainability loss. The first concerns what kind of loss it is and how it is a harm to agents. In particular, how climate induced sustainability losses compound other harms. The second issue concerns how to attribute responsibility for climate-related sustainability losses where climate impacts compound the losses through other non-climate pathways. The paper will argue that an understanding of the compounding nature of climate harms is necessary to fully understand the harms involved in the loss of sustainability. The paper will focus on several examples of sustainability loss to highlight the issues.

Financed by:

LS Politische Theorie, University of Potsdam

The Environmental Philosophy Group, UiT – The Arctic University of Tromso

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