Climate change and individual responsibility: Agency, moral disengagement and the motivational gap

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Centre for Ethics and Value Inquiry
  • Bioethics Institute Ghent


If climate change represents a severe threat to humankind, why then is response to it characterized by inaction at all levels? The authors argue there are two complementary explanations for the lack of motivation. First, our moral judgment system appears to be unable to identify climate change as an important moral problem and there are pervasive doubts about the agency of individuals. This explanation, however, is incomplete: Individual emitters can effectively be held morally responsible for their luxury emissions. Second, doubts about individual agency have become overly emphasized and fail to convincingly exonerate individuals from responsibility. This book extends the second explanation for the motivational gap, namely that the arguments for the lack of individual agency do in fact correspond to mechanisms of moral disengagement. The use of these mechanisms enables consumption elites to maintain their consumptive lifestyles without having to accept moral responsibility for their luxury emissions


Original languageEnglish
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages150
ISBN (Electronic)9781137464507
ISBN (Print)9781349499298
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015


  • climate change, moral responsibility, agency, motivational gap, human rights, climate ethics