An argument being deployed to insist that we must do everything, right now, to beat climate change:
Bad ancestors: does the climate crisis violate the rights of those yet to be born?
Our environmental vandalism has made urgent the question of ethical responsibilities across decades and centuries
An interesting question to ask and one that deserves an answer. A compete and correct answer including all the other things we might do for our descendants. For example, we might bequeath them a much larger economy so that they are richer. Being richer is generally thought to lead to living a more comfortable life after all.
We can also look back and think of what we’re happy we have been left by our own ancestors. Most of us here in the UK are pretty happy with the idea that absolute poverty - that $1.90 a day kind - was finally abolished in the 1930s at the latest. In the way is still hasn’t been in some countries, in the way it wasn’t for 40% of humanity as recently as 40 years ago.
We could even be extreme and welcome the manner in which we’re that much richer as a result of past efforts that we’re on the right side of the environmental Kuznets curve now - we’re rich enough to be worrying about and spending upon that environment.
We could even look at the IPCC’s own economic models. If we tangle with climate change carefully and correctly then our descendants will be up to 11 times richer than we are and also enjoy a cleaner environment without that climate change by 2100. Do it badly and they’ll be perhaps 3 times richer on a dirtier, warmer, planet. The nice thing about those IPCC models being that globalised free market capitalism - you know, neoliberalism - is not just a part of that better solution, it’s integral to it.
That environmental question, what do we owe the future, is entirely valid. It’s just that most of the answers environmentalists give to it aren’t valid.