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Climate Change and Our Duty to Future Generations

As a species, we have had an ever-increasing relationship with the environment. As we have progressed in terms of technology and population, our relationship with the non-human world has become progressively more challenging. Such challenges present themselves in the form of climate breakdown as a result of humans, which is known as the Anthropocene.

A useful port of analysis will be Green Political Theory, which looks at the “economic and political implications of climate change, peak oil, overconsumption, resource competition and conflicts, and rising levels of global and national inequalities”. As a society, we must ponder the moral implications of this, whether we have wilfully inflicted this damage on our world or if it is borne out of ignorance.

Once this is established, the more pressing question that has deeper implications is whether or not we have a moral duty to rectify the environmental neglect that we have inflicted upon the world for the betterment of tomorrow and ensure the best possible planet for future generations.


Ecocentrism’s method of thinking stipulates that the environment requires moral deliberation as it is inherently worthwhile. It is an ethical nature in which there is, “…moral consideration because it has intrinsic value, value aside from its usefulness to humans”. This approach places importance, or intrinsic value, on the ecosystem and as such the needs of humans should not be the sole priority, rather it should be placed in conjunction with the needs of the planet and its systems.

Necessary changes include reducing our carbon footprint, moving towards sustainable food systems and also launching economic changes worldwide to reduce the impact on the environment. Ecocentrism offers the best method of preserving and bettering the planet for future generations as the purpose is not borne out of focusing solely on humans but focusing on the entirety of the environment. This way we can ensure a regard for all life, not just humankind.

Increasing Demands

The decline of our ecosystems has been the by-product of human development. Such impacts arise from globalisation and a doubling in human population occurring since the 1970s, with a 45% increase per capita. As a result of this increasing population, there have been increasing demands placed on areas required for our survival such as food and energy.

As a subsequence of this gluttony for nature, it has led to a steep decline in, “nature’s capacity to provide crucial benefits… including environmental processes underpinning human health and nonmaterial contributions to human quality of life.” This ignorance leads to environmental neglect and can become destructive as people are stuck in their environmentally damaging ways of living.

Adopting Green Political Theory allows us to analyse the ignorant and insatiable aspects of human nature in such factors as overconsumption, exploitation and global inequality. When more people are educated on the matter and influenced by climate injustice there can be less room for ignorance, removing any possibility of neglecting the environment that we must preserve for future generations.

Obligation to Future Generations

A fundamental crux of understanding the moral implications of this question is to uncover what exactly we owe future generations. Upon research, there has been a surprisingly large amount of work present arguing that we have little to no obligation to leave the world in a better place than we found it. In Anthony D’Amato’s article covering a similar topic to this question, he brings notoriety to Derek Parfit’s thesis.

It is stated that a paradox arises when we attempt to shape the environment through good-hearted endeavours. Any action such as reducing our carbon footprint has a slight impact on the ecosystem, shaping the world into a more habitable environment, and reducing air pollution. This reduction in air pollution impacts surprisingly, shaping the way humans procreate. According to D’Amato, “…the slightest difference in the conditions of conception will probably result in fertilization of the egg by a different sperm.”

This is a curious aspect to analyse any moral implications we may feel, as the slightest change in the environment can shape the very people we are preserving the planet for. Any attempt we take to better the environment is innately pointless because we have the potential to remove the very people from existence whom we feel we owe an obligation to save. The people we feel we have an obligation to help are as yet undefined. D’Amato goes on to express a similar conclusion, noting that it is hard to owe a duty to these people as they were not the people whom we envisioned saving originally.

As unique as this viewpoint is,  I don’t feel like it does the problem any justice. We can’t just live how we please and let future generations suffer as a cost of such recklessness, even if we do change who comes out at the end of the line. An important facet to remember is that potential generations to come are still merely hypothetical at this point. However hypothetical, we still have certain obligations to adhere to. The obligations we hold to future generations have been described similarly to the obligations we have towards our offspring. We are responsible for bringing them into this world and have a duty of care towards them.


Edited By Kavya Vengkateshwaran

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