Ethics, energy policy, and future generations

Environmental Ethics 5 (3):195-209 (1983)
Conflicts can arise between energy policies pursued in the interests of present people and the needs of future people for environmental and social conditions conducive to human well-being. This paper is addressed primarily to those who believe that we have moral obligations toward people of the distant future, and who consider these obligations to affect the range of energy policies which we are morally entitled to pursue. l examine utilitarian, contractarian, and formalist ethical theories to determine which provide adequate ethical bases for this moral conviction. I argue that utilitarian theories lead to bizarre prescriptions concerning energy policies that affect people of the distant future. Contractarian theories, on one interpretation, fail to support any moral concern at all for such people and, on another, exclude some relevant dimensions of moral concern, i.e., beneficence, and provide policy planners with inadequate guidance in the face of moral dilemmas. Only formalism, for example, that of W. D. Ross, supports a moral concern for people of the distant future, and yields reasonable prescriptions concerning energy policies that affect such people
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