Climate Change and the Rights of Future Generations

Environmental Ethics 29 (4):369-388 (2007)
Abstract
Despite widespread agreement that we have moral responsibilities to future generations, many are reluctant to frame the issues in terms of justice and rights. There are indeed philosophical challenges here, particularly concerning nonoverlapping generations. They can, however, be met. For example, talk of justice and rights for future generations in connection with climate change is both appropriate and important, although it requires revising some common theoretical assumptions about the nature of justice and rights. We can, in fact, be bound by the rights of future people, despite the “non-identity problem,” and the force of these rights cannot be diluted by “discounting” future costs. Moreover, a rights-based approach provides an effective answer to political arguments against taking mandatory measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions when these are unpopular with a democratic populace.
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