Obligations to Future Generations and the Precautionary Principle Ethics of Sustainability Class 6 Leslie Paul Thiele, Ph.D. Department of Political Science University of Florida Overview • • • • • • • Ethical Concern for Future Generations Intergenerational Justice Brief History of Intergenerational Ethics Discounting the Future Climate Change and Future Generations The Precautionary Principle Risk (Cost Benefit) Analysis Kant’s Categorical Imperative Bentham’s Utilitarian Calculus Intragenerational vs Intergenerational Justice • John Rawls’s “veil of ignorance” – “We are not allowed to treat generations differently solely on the grounds that they are earlier or later in time.” • Edmund Burke – “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” • Environmental Policy Act of 1969 – “Fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.” • World Commission on Environment and Development (Our Common Future, 1987) – sustainable development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” • Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generations towards Future Generations (UNESCO, 1997) – “Present generations have the responsibility of ensuring that the needs and interests of future generations are fully safeguarded.” Extinction … is forever • half of all living mammal and bird species today will be extinct within 300 years • Effective end of evolution of vertebrates • E.O. Wilson: "The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive." • "We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children” • Seven (seventy?) generations decisions – Level of technological development: • CFCs • Plutonium • automobiles • The future whispers while the present shouts • Discounting the future – Economics -$100 now, or $121 in 2012 -Depleting natural capital – Politics • Representing constituents/lobbyists? Climate Change Precautionary Principle • Avoid Unnecessary Risk – When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. – In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. – Wingspread statement Precautionary Principle • A new name for an old truth and virtue: – A stitch in time saves nine – Better safe than sorry – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – prudence Precautionary Principle • Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” • World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology: The precautionary principle “is not a decision algorithm and thus cannot guarantee consistency between cases. Just as in legal court cases, each case [that applies the precautionary principle] will be somewhat different, having its own facts, uncertainties, circumstances, and decisionmakers, and the element of judgment cannot be eliminated.” Risk management (RCBA) • • • • • • • • Trade offs Probabilities Intensity/Impact Populations Voluntary or involuntary Sacred goods Future generations Who decides? Technology and risk • Advancing technology and opting out? • Ethics and analysis What do future generations… • • • • want? need? deserve? have a right to?