Climate Change and Justice between Nonoverlapping Generations
Keywords:climate change, intergenerational justice, future generations, indirect reciprocity, common ownership, human rights
It is becoming less and less controversial that we ought to aggressively combat climate change. One main reason for doing so is concern for future generations, as it is they who will be the most seriously affected by it. Surprisingly, none of the more prominent deontological theories of intergenerational justice can explain why it is wrong for the present generation to do very little to stop worsening the problem. This paper discusses three such theories, namely indirect reciprocity, common ownership of the earth and human rights. It shows that while indirect reciprocity and common ownership are both too undemanding, the human rights approach misunderstands the nature of our intergenerational relationships, thereby capturing either too much or too little about what is problematic about climate change. The paper finally proposes a way to think about intergenerational justice that avoids the pitfalls of the traditional theories and can explain what is wrong with perpetuating climate change.