Conservation: Natural Resource and Future Generations Justice

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Today we will discuss the ethics of conserving depletable resources. Points to be covered in this lesson:

It might appear that we have an obligation to conserve resources for future generations because they have an equal right to the limited resources of this planet.

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Conservation of resources Economic growth vs conservation

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Future generations have an equal right to the planet’s limited resources By depleting these resources we are depriving them of what is rightfully theirs So we ought to do our utmost to practice conservation • To minimize depletion

• To avoid violating the rights of future generations However, some of the writers claimed that it is a mistake to think that future generations have rights and there are three main reasons for that: 1. Future generation do not exist right now and may never exist. Since there is a possibility that future generation may never exist, they cannot “possess” rights. 2. If future generations did have rights, then we might be led to the absurd conclusion that we must sacrifice our entire civilization for their sake. 3. We can only say that someone has a certain right only if we know that he or she has a certain interest, which that right protects. The purpose of a right, after all, is to protect the interests of the right-holder, but we are virtually ignorant of what interests future generation will have. Justice to Future Generations • John Rawls that while it is unjust to impose disproportionately heavy burdens on present generations for the sake of future generations, it is also unjust for present generations to leave nothing for future generations.

What do you mean by the word Conservation? Conservation refers to the saving or rationing of resources for future use. A basic difference between pollution and resource depletion Pollution

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Most form of pollution affects present generations (with the notable exception of nuclear waste) Polluted resources are for the most part renewable

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Air and water can be renewed by ceasing to pollute them And allowing them time to recover

Resource Depletion Resource depletion affects future generations Concerned with finite nonrenewable resources • Since they cannot be renewed

Two unjust extremes

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To impose disproportionately heavy conservation burdens on the present generation (unfair to us) To leave virtually nothing for future generations (unfair to them)

What will be around for future generations is just what’s left over from the present

Resource depletion forces two main kinds of questions on us: 1. Why ought we to conserve resources for future generations, and 2. How much should we conserve? Rights of Future Generations

Justice requires that we hand over to the next generation a situation no worse than the one we received from our ancestors.

This point is seconded by considerations of care

We have a fairly direct relationship of care and concern towards the immediately following generation, and, less and less towards more and more distant future generations. Ethics of acre imply that we should attempt to see matters from the perspective of the immediately succeeding generations which suggests that we should “at least leave the succeeding generation a world that is not worse than the one we received” 43


Utilitarian Analysis also favors this theory: Each generation has a duty to maximize the future beneficial consequences of its actions and to minimize their future injurious consequences for succeeding generations, as well as themselves. However, utilitarians have claimed, these future consequences should be “discounted” in proportion to their uncertainty and to their distance in the future. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on market mechanisms to ensure that scarce resources are conserved for future generations. The market registers only the effective demands of...
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