Anja Karnein, State University of New York, Binghamton


Wednesday, October 7, 2015, 4:30pm


Robertson Hall, Bowl 2

Title: “Climate Change and Intergenerational Justice”

Speaker: Anja Karnein, State University of New York, Binghamton
Commentator: Mark Budolfson, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

Ira W. DeCamp Bioethics Seminar, CFI co-sponsored with the University Center for Human Values.

Anja Karnein


Anja Karnein (Ph.D., Brandeis) is Assistant Professor at Binghamton University (SUNY) where she teaches political philosophy and (bio)ethics. She held postdoctoral positions at Harvard University and UCLA before teaching at Goethe University Frankfurt for several years. During her time in Frankfurt she was a visiting scholar at NYU and UCLA as well as visiting professor at Karl-Franzens University Graz. Her first book, A Theory of Unborn Life. From Abortion to Genetic Manipulation (OUP 2012) deals with our duties toward the future persons we create. Her current research project concerns the obligations we have to future persons further removed from us, especially in light of climate change. Her recent papers include “Putting Fairness in Its Place: Why There is a Duty to Take Up the Slack,” (Journal of Philosophy 2014) and “Asking Beneficiaries to Pay for Past Pollution,” Climate Justice and Historical Emissions, ed. by Lukas Meyer and Pranay Sanklecha (CUP 2015).


It is becoming less and less controversial that we ought to aggressively combat climate change. One main reason for doing so is concern for future generations, as it is they who will be the most seriously affected by it. Surprisingly, none of the more prominent theories of intergenerational justice can explain why it is wrong for the present generation to do very little to stop worsening the problem. This paper discusses three such theories, namely indirect reciprocity, common ownership of the earth and human rights. It shows that while indirect reciprocity and common ownership are both too undemanding, the human rights approach misunderstands the nature of our intergenerational relationships, thereby capturing either too much or too little about what is problematic about climate change. The paper finally suggests that an account of nondomination may be one way to avoid the pitfalls of the traditional theories and to explain why climate change violates norms of intergenerational justice.