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KJuris: Professor Christian Barry & Professor Garrett Cullity (ANU) - 'Offsetting and Risk-Imposition'

7 Oct
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KJuris: King's Legal Philosophy Workshop
Part of KJuris: King's Legal Philosophy Workshops 2020/21

KJuris Seminar with Professor Garrett Cullity

Title: 'Offsetting and Risk-Imposition'


Suppose you perform two actions. The first imposes a risk of harm that, on its own, would be excessive; but the second reduces the risk of harm by a corresponding amount. By pairing the two actions together to form a set of actions that is risk-neutral, can you thereby make your overall course of conduct permissible? This question is theoretically interesting, because the answer is apparently: sometimes Yes, sometimes No. It is also practically important, because it bears on the moral status of practices such as offsetting personal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

This paper proposes a criterion for distinguishing between cases where pairing risk-increasing and risk-reducing actions makes each action permissible, and those where it does not: the Principle of Aggregate Risk-Imposition. It then uses this criterion to evaluate GHG offsetting. Is offsetting a legitimate way of removing the risk-imposition associated with GHG emissions, or not? This turns out to depend on the form that the offsetting takes. According to the proposed criterion, offsetting by sequestering (for example, by planting trees) has the right form to be morally legitimate; but offsetting by forestalling (for example, by supplying people with more efficient cooking stoves or funding clean energy generation) is usually morally dubious.

Speaker biographies

Professor Christian Barry is Professor of Philosophy and Head of School in Philosophy in the RSSS, and Co-Editor of the Journal of Political Philosophy.

Professor Garrett Cullity is Professor of Philosophy at Australian New University.

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