Inter-generational Justice (Blog 13)

I was responsible for a presentation on this topic, in which my group focused on inter-generational justice and for the purpose of this blog I will do the same.

The question that we face here is whether or not we are responsible for or even capable of caring for the future generations of humans who will one day walk this Earth. It is said that a lot of the controversy that surrounds the topic removes the ethical and moral aspect from it and puts in back into terms of economics and cost-benefit analyses. This is because many of the practices pinkyswearthat are damaging to the environment (and as a result future generations) are said to be done in the name of economic growth. But the author makes the claim that while growth is generally accepted to be a good thing, this is not necessarily the truth. Given the example of a cancerous growth, I can think of very few who would take this type of growth to be good or positive. Therefore, it is urged that we reflect on whether economic growth in its current condition is actually a desirable thing when its growth has so many negative and lasting side effects. As far as measuring cost and benefits, it is said that “some of what we do is use up finite stocks… we assume that many of the functions of nature are free and their loss… is not assigned an appropriate weighing up of costs and benefits.”[1] When it comes to the question of how can we leave things the same or better for future generations as when we got here, the name of the game is sustainability. However, sustainability has become a buzzword and has therefore made itself much easier to be cast aside and allowed “us to dismiss certain proposals.”[2]

For the most part, the readings for this topic surround this idea of our “moral community” and the extension of it not only to include non-human species such as flora and fauna but also to include unborn humans. I found Avner de-Shalit’s argument ofcommunitarianism communitarianism to be the most convincing and closest to my beliefs. “We are morally bound to future generations through shared membership in a ‘community’.”[3] Some skeptics to this, and any other argument in favor of sustainability for future generations, argue that there is no way for us to possibly know what will be beneficial or needed or advantageous for future generations. Taking this a step further they argue, “because distant generations cannot negotiate a contract with their forebears for mutual advantage, they cannot be bound by principles of justice in regard to us, nor can we in regard to them.”[4] Critics also claim that there is no limit on the future generations we are trying to claim accountability for and if we try to have equal distributive shares with this indefinite number of lives and generations then there will be nothing left for ourselves. This is my response to all of the critiques. You are trying to hide behind big imposing numbers and the idea that we have no connection to our future, but it’s not true. A complete overhaul of the economic system is not what we need, and to develop a bond or a love for future generations is not necessary either- because it already exists. If while sitting here on a college campus studying about environmental ethics, I am concerned for my future children and grandchildren (which may or may not ever happen, but it doesn’t really matter because I have plenty of other family members and future family members that I care about) then I think this is going to be the key to resolving the motivation problem. When you present a problem in a daunting manner then the motivation to address the problem declines until the problem grows larger and larger and you pass the point of where you could have actually fixed the problem. What I’m saying here is that if we start out by just focusing on helping our children and each generation continues that train of thought, or that “chain linking,”[5] you will actually be helping an indefinite number of generations. Small goals can grow into large outcomes. I think that this is half of the problem with environmental policy and ethics; people call for huge change in an environment where the status quo is cherished and protected, which makes this type of change overwhelming and unrealistic at this point in time. But if we would focus on the little things and ground up types of solutions, I think our generation and future generations would learn a lot and the environment and humans would be much better off.

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Question: Would Aldo Leopold agree with communitarianism, or would he think that the criteria is too stringent and leaves out animal and plant life?

[1] Donald VanDeVeer and Christine Pierce, The Environmental Ethics & Policy Book (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomas Learning, 2003), 422.

[2] VanDeVeer, 420.

[3] VanDeVeer, 430.

[4] Clark Wolf, Intergenerational Justice (Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy), 521.

[5] VanDeVeer, 433.


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