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Engineering Ethics, Global Climate Change, and the Precautionary Principle

Engineering Ethics, Global Climate Change, and the Precautionary Principle
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Author(s): Robin Attfield (Cardiff University, UK)
Copyright: 2015
Pages: 10
Source title: Contemporary Ethical Issues in Engineering
Source Author(s)/Editor(s): Satya Sundar Sethy (Indian Institute of Technology Madras, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8130-9.ch004


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Besides respecting relevant codes of professional ethics, engineers should heed the principles of common morality and international law, including the Precautionary Principle, which requires action to prevent serious or irreversible harm in advance of scientific consensus, when reasons exist to credit such harm. In this chapter, this principle is shown to be applicable to many kinds of technology. An objection that seeks to assimilate it to policies of Maximin is shown to miscarry. The principle is further interpreted as concerning avoidable reductions of future quality of life. The phenomenon of anthropogenic climate change is then shown to involve challenges for engineers. In addition to principles of justice and of benevolence, the Precautionary Principle is found to be relevant once again to such decision making. Finally, considerations of humanity's limited carbon budget are adduced to indicate, in the light of these principles, the inappropriateness of extreme forms of energy extraction.

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