Uncertainty as the Reason for Action: Last Opportunity and Future Climate Disaster

  • Henry Shue
Keywords: Irreversibility, precautionary principle, sea-level rise


In cases in which there is the possibility of massive human losses, the threshold likelihood of their occurrence, and the non-excessive costs of their prevention, we ought to act now. This is all the more definitely the case because it may well be that this is the time-of-last-opportunity to head off one or more potential disasters, all of which may still be preventable by sufficiently rapid reductions in carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuel. It is unfair that the present generation should incur as heavy a burden as it does of seizing the last opportunity for prevention of disasters like large sea-level rises, but the unfairness is not sufficient to make the burden unreasonable to bear, especially since it is not in fact as heavy as often believed.