Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

29 Oct 2013

Will we, can we save future generations?

Posted by Michael Keating

Many of the benefits of moving to sustainability will go to future generations. The title of the seminal Brundtland Report of 1987 is Our Common Future.

An article in Time by Bryan Walsh looks at how planning for the long term often goes against the grain of human nature. He uses a study of investing in climate change as an example.

Stopping or at least slowing climate change means a radical shift away from the relatively cheap fossil fuels that move us around, heat our homes and power much of the global economy. The economic cost of the transition would fall mainly on our shoulders, while much of the benefit would be avoiding costs for future generations.

Walsh says that “…climate policy asks the present to sacrifice for the future,” but humans are not very good at that kind of planning. He notes that many people have not even been able to set aside enough money for a decent retirement.

His bottom line: we better look for climate policies that also bring benefits in the short term, noting that reducing fossil fuel consumption will also bring cleaner air and better health.

The line “What have future generations done for me?” needs to be taken seriously. While people do care about their children’s’ future, their focus is mainly on the short term. Sustainability policies must take this into account or they risk getting shelved.

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