chapter  14
10 Pages

Global Citizenship and the Global Environment

Environmental responsibilities form the most obvious focus of concern for global citizens, as well as the territory where global obligations most clearly arise. However great the need may be for global citizenship in matters of development, peace, human rights and democracy, the importance of universal obligations and of concerted action grounded on such obligations is apparently least deniable with regard to our shared but vulnerable planet, with its global problems of climate change, pollution and the imperilled condition of renewable resources and of the global commons. If these responsibilities are ignored, then succeeding generations will suffer, as will the fellow species with which we share the planetary biosphere. (Some further aspects of the concept of global citizenship will be discussed below.)

Yet these apparently clear-cut responsibilities of global citizens are the implicit targets of several kinds of criticism, criticisms which need to be tackled if belief in global citizenship is to be defensibly held in environmental contexts. Some of the criticisms are specific to environmental issues, as when it is suggested that the global environment is nothing more than an abstraction from the environments of actual individual experience. Other objections are common to global citizenship across the whole of its potential range of application and concern whether there are universal obligations of the kind suggested, as opposed to obligations arising out of communities or relationships, the extent of which is restricted to those ties of relationship or community of which the subject of responsibilities is conscious; for on such a communitarian basis the scope of responsibilities could not be unrestricted

and those distanced from us either in space or in time might well be no concern of ours. There again, criticisms are liable to be directed at ethical theories that recognise environmental responsibilities not only as international (transcending national boundaries), and as intergenerational (transcending the sequence of the generations) but also as interspecific (transcending boundaries between species). Problems arise here sometimes from adherents of human-centred ethics, who are liable to reject such wider responsibilities, and sometimes, paradoxically, from those who regard all species as warranting equal concern regardless of their diverse capacities, sensitivities and forms of life, who are liable to protest if creatures of any sort are prioritised over others. Concern for the animal kingdom also raises the question of whether global citizenship can itself be restricted to humanity.