Ty Raterman

“Bearing the Weight of the World:

On the Extent of an Individual’s Environmental Responsibility”



2.      Question: To what extent is an individual obliged to live env sustainably?

3.      Answer: Each person has a moral obligation to constantly strive to do more than he/she is currently doing and that puts her/him into new uncomfortable territory

         a.      But no one is required to martyr herself for env cause

4.      Answer avoids (and lies between) two extremes about the importance of collective agreement

         a.      Collective agreement = Laws, rules, agreement, expectations that most/many people will act and that individual will not be acting unilaterally

5.      One extreme: Only if collective agreement exists must individual live sustainably

         a.      No obligation to reduce consumption/pollution unilaterally

         b.      We are obligated to act in env friendly way only when many people are required to so act

                   i.       For one person’s lone act has no meaningful impact

         c.      Could add to this (as does Johnson and Sinnott-Armstrong) one has a moral obligation to work for establishment of collective scheme to protect the commons and to adhere to it once in place.

         d.      Collective agreement all important

         e.      Baylor Johnson and Sinnott-Armstrong’s views

6.      Other extreme: Individual must live sustainably, whether or not others do

         a.      Regardless of what others are doing, each is obligated to limit pollution/consumption to level sustainable if everyone were to act in this way

                   i.       Kantian principle: “every commons user morally ought to restrict use to level would be sustainable if all others reduced their use similarly and to do so regardless of what others do”

                   ii.      Collective agreement irrelevant;

                            (1)    Lack of collective agreement does not matter; still must do our fair share

         b.      Worry: Calling this an extreme seems to assume that at most one’s obligation is to limit one’s consumption/pollution to level everyone could do sustainably

                   i.       But might one not have an obligation to do more than one’s fair share?

                   ii.      But one might think one has an obligation to do more given that one knows that others will do less than their fair share

                   iii.     But given the reality of how seriously we would have to change our lives to do our fair share perhaps doing more is not realistic

         c.      Raterman thinks the Kantian principle leads to env martyrdom


7.      Four points bring home difficulty of the question: How env friendly one is obligated to act

         a.      One: List of env friendly behaviors very long (see list)

         b.      Two: Many such behaviors involve some cost to individuals doing them

                   i.       Monetary costs, extra effort, some inconvenience, sacrificing comfort or enjoyment

                   ii.      Sometimes these can save you money

         c.      Three: Because of costs, many people will not do env friendly thing unless required (or strongly pressured) to do so

         d.      Four: Doing these env friendly acts have no noticeable impact unless they are consistently being performed by many people (a “collective action problem”)

                   i.       And even if they are, the individual’s contribution has no noticeable impact

                   ii.      Jet ski in lake example

                            (1)    Individual act “fails to register”

                            (2)    Water quality test the same

                                      (a)     Whether everybody else does it and I don’t

                                      (b)    If nobody does it but me



9.      Johnson’s view (like SA):

         a.      Rejects Kantian claim,

         b.      Requires duty to work to organize collective scheme,

         c.      No duty to act individually in env friendly way

         d.      Qualifications

                   i.       If unilateral reductions severely deprive oneself or others who depend on you, these can become substitute for organizing efforts

                   ii.      Individual action are morally permissible and praiseworthy as supererogatory (above and beyond call of duty)

10.    Some good reasons for unilateral reductions

         a.      Make one feel good as concrete and immediate

         b.      Act as pioneer whose efforts reveal what works and is possible

         c.      Necessary to avoid charge of hypocrisy when one organizes to establish collective scheme, so do it to help successfully organize

                   i.       Not actually hypocritical, however

                   ii.      Auto emission test requirement: E.g., promoting establishment of auto emission test requirement w/o unilaterally ensuring ones own car is not an excessive emitter

         d.      May set an example for others–but pessimistic about chances this will inspire sufficient number to make a difference


11.    Difference contribute to famine relief and not drive gas guzzler: the former will really help and latter not

         a.      Misleading: Have no obligation to contribute to famine relief because famine will continue and people will die whether or not I donate money

                   i.       Problem is that one’s donation certainly can help a particular individual

         b.      With not driving gas guzzler, no one will be helped.


12.    Pebble tossing example

         a.      Being one of thousands that tosses a pebble on a person which crushes her, does not harm the person, but does contribute to the harm

                   i.       Not everything that contributes to a harm actually harms

                            (1)    Just as not everything that contributes to a tasty dish is itself tasty

         b.      Acts can contribute to a harm even if not necessary or sufficient for the harm

                   i.       SA car push case

         c.      And we have an obligation not to contribute to the harm

         d.      This applies to env unfriendly behaviors too


13.    Raterman does not think collective scheme is necessary to get duties to act on your own

14.    Pool leaf case shows free riding is morally derelict even outside cooperative agreement

         a.      W/o a formal agreement one person scoops leaves one day and 10 others other days but 11th person does not, even though he swims in pool every day and would not if leaves where there

15.    Voting case

         a.      Citizens in a democracy ought to vote, even though no formal requirement

                   i.       And even though one’s vote does not make a difference

         b.      It is part of a “collective effort”

         c.      But so is doing env friendly things

         d.      So no reason to say have obligation to vote, but no obligation to perform a single env friendly action


16.    Consequential versus non-consequential reasons for acting

         a.      Absence of collective agreement does not entirely excuse one from moral obligation to perform env friendly acts

         b.      True, consequential reasons seem not to require these act: No one will be benefitted if one acts differently

         c.      But non-consequential reasons do

         d.      Just as in voting, pebble, and car pushing cases



18.    Only reason for punishment are not deterrence (consequentialist) or retribution (non-consequential)

19.    “Expressive” (symbolic) function of punishment is another good reason to punish

         a.      When society punishes wrongdoers, they symbolically deny participation or acquiescence in the criminal act

         b.      Punishment expresses community’s strong disapproval of what criminal did

         c.      It tells the world that criminal had no right to act as she did and that gove does not condone this

         d.      Reaffirms that violated statue retains its character as law and erases doubts about whether law means what it says

         e.      Messages punishment communicates/symbolizes


20.    Expressive symbolic function applies to other cases

         a.      Voting: one’s vote does not make a difference to who is elected but one voices support for a gove system in which power rests with the people and shows support for policies one judges best

         b.      Pebble-laying, car pushing cases: Innocent die whether or not join it, but refraining expresses that one is not complicit symbolically cleanses one’s hands of blood and liberates one from guilt by association

21.    Performing env friendly acts unilaterally has extremely important symbolic expressive function (to others or to oneself)

         a.      Examples

         b.      Live close to work, one proclaims that one is not complicit in harm (polluted air, climate change) that results from many people engaging in long commutes

         c.      Biking to work one declares ones repudiation of lifestyles built on rapacious unsustainable consumption of fossil fuels

         d.      Not eating meat is a form of protest–important more for what it symbolizes than what it accomplishes–against wakefulness and pollution of factory farms

         e.      Recycling each week on expresses one’s disapproval of wastefulness and symbolically announces that one cares about future of planet


         f.       Doing nothing communicates the opposite message

         g.      Works to get recycling collective scheme but not actually recycle, one communicates a mixed message


22.    Integrity another reason to act sustainably

23.    Integrity is harmony between one’s beliefs/values and acts

24.    If value healthy env but does not act in way that reflects that value, one’s integrity is compromised

         a.      Even if one works to establish collective agreements

         b.      For here personal and political levels are not integrated

25.    Weakness of integrity: if care nothing about env health then doing nothing also manifest integrity




27.    Kantian view: morally obligated to act in sustainable manner regardless of what others are doing

         a.      Even if no collective scheme in place you obligated to act as you would be required if the collective agreement existed

28.    Why wrong?

         a.      Because of high costs

                   i.       Drawing on commons at unsustainable levels gives considerable benefits

                   ii.      Refraining involves considerable losses

29.    Pebble and car push cases not so clear if very high costs of not participating

         a.      If dictator threatens to imprison or kill those who do not participate

         b.      This is a excuse

         c.      Admirable moral courage shown in not participating

         d.      Judgment much harsher on those who participate in contributing to the harm when little cost not to than when great cost not to

30.    For Raterman to get footprint to sustainable levels he’d have to take a monumental effort

         a.      Would diminish his quality of life in a serious way

                   i.       Not visit his family 2000 miles away

         b.      To get from three earths to one earth

31.    No obligation to martyr himself alone


32.    There are reasons to not put pebble on pile or to not engage in env unsustainable behaviors

33.    But reasons can be outweighed in cases were the env friendly acts become sufficiently burdensome



         a.      How substantial does sacrifice to one’s own welfare need to be before non-consequential reasons for performing env friendly unilateral acts are defeated?

35.    Analogies with athletic training and work and parenting

         a.      Not exercising enough if no strain/pain, but too much if one cripples oneself

36.    Lesson: Not expect to be as fully devoted to an end as one could possibility be, but not doing enough if one stays entirely within the realm of comfort and convenience

37.    Subjectivity here: same env acts will not be equally taxing for all who do them

         a.      Exactly what one’s env obligations are turns to some degree on one’s financial means and life circumstances

         b.      Not anything goes: Too taxing for me to recycle? That’s an exaggeration or laziness

38.    Also more perform env friendly acts, more accustom to them you become and less uncomfortable doing them seems

         a.      Car-pooling to work and eating less meat good examples

39.    Not everything that seems like a burden really is

         a.      Much of our env taxing material consumption fails to contribute significantly to our happiness


40.    Conclusion: does he do enough?

         a.      No obligation to do all that one could do

         b.      May env friendly acts he does unilaterally and has strong non-consequential reasons for doing

         c.      Does enough to involve some discomfort and inconvenience

         d.      What once seemed quite taxing is not second nature

         e.      Obligation to strive further and challenge himself anew

         f.       More he can do w/o seriously sacrificing his well-being

Questions on Raterman “On the Extent of an Individual’s Environmental Responsibility”

1.      What is Raterman’s answer to his title question: What is the extent of an individual’s env responsibility?

2.      In what way does this response involve some “subjectivity?”

3.      Describe the two extremes he thinks his answer avoids (hint: the extremes have to do with the relevance of collective agreements and whether or not unilateral action is required). How does his answer lies between these two extremes?

4.      Why does Raterman think having a duty to act unilaterally in a sustainable manner is an extreme? Is he right? Would it lead to environmental martyrdom?

5.      Explain what Raterman proposes as the main “non-consequentialist” reason to act in an environmentally friendly way (Hint: It has to do with expressive, symbolic, and communicative nature of acts.) In other words, what is his main reason for acting in environmentally friendly ways even when it does not have good consequences (in terms of improving the environment). Use voting as an analogy to help explain.

6.      Use Raterman’s jet ski in a lake example to explain why individual env friendly acts are inconsequential.

7.      Explain why giving to famine relief might be thought to have good consequences where as not driving your gas guzzler does not.

8.      How might the notion of integrity suggest we act in an environmentally friendly way, even if it does not have good consequences?