Future Generations - University of Florida

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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
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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)
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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…
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want?
need?
deserve?
have a right to?
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