What is our duty to the future?

When I was a Boy Scout and we went camping it was drummed into us that we should leave the campsite cleaner than we found it.

I’m a Boomer and some day I’ll write an ode to what we accomplished during our watch. But not today.

However, it seems clear that we will leave the world a cleaner place than we found it–the rivers don’t burn nowadays at least, and many other indicators of planetary ecology are on the upswing.

So should we turn our thoughts to the world our grandchildren will inherit? Specifically should we do everything in our power to mitigate the climate change to which we are contributing?

I think not. Only 2 of 7 people on this planet today are living a modern lifestyle, and a modern lifestyle, imperfect as it is, is what the other 5 are looking for. There are still too many who starve, who die of disease, who die of pollution in poorer countries that we in the richer ones have gotten rid of.

I believe we should orient the bulk of our efforts towards current problems. I’m not saying ignore climate change–I think we need to spend time and money on both mitigation and adaptation–but we need to have a clearer perspective on what we can and should do.

The developing world needs our help cleaning their part of the campsite. They also need our help ridding themselves of the poverty and disease that afflict so many. They need our help developing energy sources that fit their needs–clean and green when we can get it to them, but any sort if we can’t.

My mantra of the month is that future generations cannot help today’s poor. I thought I’d explain it here. Climate change is not a political issue and only tangentially an economic one. What it truly is is a moral dilemma. Do we save who we can today or focus on the future?

Yes, the climate is changing and it will pose a problem. But my hope for the future is that we turn over a world where the other 5/7th have achieved a middle class income and the comforts that go with it. I am convinced that having done so they will adopt the same middle class fear of pollution and the same love for a cleaner environment that is evident in the developed part of the world.

Our children will have more resources–more wealth, more power, more and better technology. They will also have a better understanding of the climate and what we are doing to it.

Our task is clear–we can’t do everything but we must do something. We should focus on the 5 billion who need our help today.

Feed the world


6 responses to “What is our duty to the future?

  1. We only have a duty to the present, the future can take care of itself. As a dutch poet once wrote: a man often suffers most / for the suffering that he fears / but that suffering never happens / so he suffers more / than god bestows upon him

    • Nice poem. There’s also this from Winston Churchill:

      The duty of government is first and foremost to be practical. I am for makeshifts and expediency. I would like to make the people who live on this world at the same time as I do better fed and happier generally. If incidentally I benefit posterity – so much the better – but I would not sacrifice my own generation to a principle however high or a truth however great.

      I picked up that from a website on the Cambodian tragedy. Unlikely place. Or perhaps not.

  2. Tom,

    I think your attitude is exactly right. Poor people need to worry about the present and have little choice but to let the future take care of itself. As an affluent society, we are free to take a broader view. We most certainly have a duty to the future and should strive to leave the world better than we found it. The best way to do that is to lift more people out of poverty so that they too can devote some of their effort to making the world better.

  3. Your view is in sharp contrast with the climate obsessed. They seek to impoverish the world today and impose climate imperialism on the future, to limit our grandchildren’s opportunities.

  4. Excellent thoughts, thanks. Environmental concern is the luxury of an affluent society. It’s seems counter productive to demand a pristine environment at a burdensome costs to society while less developed nations or areas scalp landscape for fuel and prey on wildlife for food.

  5. While in that mind set went looking and found this. Walter Russell Mead http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/2012/07/28/the-energy-revolution-4-hot-planet/

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