11th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/O’Doherty

Selina O’Doherty

“Harming By Degrees” – Justifying Pre-Emptive Action Against Global Warming Through Treating Imminent Harms As Actual Harms

“When a harm is imminent, as opposed to probable, is pre-emptive action to protect indeterminate future victims justified?”

Although the actions which exacerbate anthropogenic global warming are not executed with the direct intent of harming human security, in this paper I argue that the widespread consensus and recognition of the consequences should render the causal actor as culpable as if they had taken direct and deliberate action. A case is constructed for these future environmental harms to be recognised as actual harms, and thus treated with the same practices of protection, liability, responsibility and accountability. Given that environmental harm is accumulative and indirect, it proves a complex threat which raises questions relating to the distinctions and transformative points between a risk, a threat and a harm, the justification of pre-emptive action on behalf of indeterminate victims, and the notion of assigning intent in relation to imminence versus probability. Taking a moderate cosmopolitan stance on both harm and human security, coupled with an English school approach to an international society of States imbued with sovereign responsibilities, this paper outlines the imminence of environmental harms as equating to actual harms, and as being parallel to gross harms, humanitarian disasters and crimes against humanity. An argument for pre-emptively treating actors as liable, accountable and responsible for harmful-conduct is also presented, to construct a clear and rational case for treating predicted environmental threats and risks as harms pre-emptively, in order to protect the human security of future victims from imminent harm, on both ethical and humanitarian grounds.