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Why Intergenerational Justice PDF Print E-mail

Short-term planning of politicians

ImageA democracy with short legislation periods lends itself to the basic problem that those who are politically responsible tend to think and plan only for periods of a few years, but not for decades or centuries. Usually, politicians act to address the current pressing needs and interests of living citizens, who are their primary voters, while the interests of future generations remain unconsidered. 

However, the effects of technological progress, for example nuclear power, will be sustained far into the future or even permanently. They have substantial influence on the quality of life of future generations. To the great detriment of future generations, the historical record of long-term planning by decision makers has not kept up with technological developments. Today's decisions are often made without taking responsibility for incurring their future devastating consequences. After their term of service, decision makers can leave their positions of power free from the responsibility of the effects their decisions produced—decisions whose effects may not emerge until some fifty years later.

New future ethics

It is said that the freedom of the individual ends where the freedom of the next one begins, and so the freedom of every generation is limited by the freedom of future generations. Dieter Birnbacher, a moral philosopher of future ethics, summarises: "The promise to prolong the bliss of the present leads to neglecting the future". Massive violations of generational justice occur because our society has been constructed to benefit from short-term profits and immediate advantages. The costs of this system are transferred into the future.

The "futurisation" of ecological problems poses an existential threat for the next generations. The happiness of present generations is bought at the expense of misery for future generations. In the face of present and future problems, we can no longer afford this short-sighted policy. We need a new future ethics that will preserve the opportunities and potential of future generations.