“Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.” – Kenyan proverb

Now, if only everyone thought that far ahead.

It really makes me feel like I should resolve not to bring a child into the world… because everyone is innately selfish (we just. can’t. help. it.), everyone is living only for themselves, and most people are of the mindset that global environmental change “doesn’t concern me, it’s not gonna happen within my lifetime anyway/I’ll be dead by the time the world really starts falling apart“.

What kind of world has my generation inherited? What kind of world would my potential child inherit?


The ethics of posterity

From the reading “Who Cares for Posterity?” by Garrett Hardin.

…as though there were a tie
And obligation to posterity.
We get them, bear them, breed, and nurse:
What has posterity done for us?

John Trumbull (1750-1831)

The question is surely an ethical one.


The standard ethical dialogue is between people who stand face to face with each other, seeking a reasonable basis for reciprocal altruism. Posterity has no chance to show its face in the here and now.

In cost-benefit analysis, we attempt to list and evaluate all the costs (negative benefits); similarly with all the (positive) benefits; then we strike a balance for the whole, on which action can be based. If the balance is plus, we go ahead; if minus, we stop. The decision is simple if costs and benefits are encountered at practically the same moment. But what if they are separated by a considerable gap in time? What if the benefits come now and the costs do not turn up for a generation? Contrariwise, what if the costs have to be paid now for benefits that come later?

Do today’s short term benefits of more electricity and more agricultural land in the upper reaches of the river outweigh tomorrow’s losses in the lower valley resulting from salination and loss of fertility?

Probably their reaction would have been that of Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield: “Something will turn up.” Such is the faith of the technological optimists. “Eat, drink, and be merry – for tomorrow will find a solution to today’s problems.”