A gross case of intergenerational injustice

On page 248 of Storms of my Grandchildren, James Hansen describes the actions of our current generation – and the political and business elites who claim to act in the best interests of society in general (when in fact their motives are entirely selfish and self-serving) as “a gross case of intergenerational injustice”… To summarise all previous posts on this subject, the basis of Hansen’s assertion is as follows: — All attempts at emissions reductions have failed because even those involved in the UNFCCC process are in denial about the urgency of the need for radical change in the way we meet our global energy demands. — Nothing will change until politicians free themselves from the influence of big business in general; and oil money in particular. — Unless we phase out coal-burning by 2030 and choose not to develop all unconventional hydrocarbon sources (coal bed methane, oil shale, tar sands, deep sea oil, etc), we have zero chance of meeting international agreements on emissions reductions. — If we do not make these rapid reductions in our emissions then, within the lifetime of children born today, we are very likely to induce humanly-irreversible climate change on a scale the Earth has not experienced in tens of millions of years (if ever). To be sure, when people can no longer deny that change is happening or that we have a problem (to which I am inclined to respond like the archetypal child in the back of a car by saying “are we there yet?”); I suspect they will continue to protest about the cost of taking effective action but, how dare anybody say that the cost of preventing such catastrophic change in the future is too expensive? Since when did it become socially acceptable to leave your house to your children and then defecate in every room before you are wheeled-off to your retirement home? In 1987, the Brundtland Report gave us the most-commonly cited definition of sustainable development as that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. However, in stark contrast to this, what our current political leaders are doing is acquiescing in the face special interests that are “treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation” (Herman E. Daly). This is not only unsustainable; it is unbelievably short-sighted and selfish: A global problem needs a global solution, but this will not be possible unless or until people stop invoking the selfish “if we don’t burn it someone else will” argument. To do so, merely proves how prescient in 1968 Garrett Hardin was to write ‘Tragedy of the Commons’: Our current crop of world leaders would do well to read it; and act accordingly. Is it little wonder, therefore, that all around the world, large numbers of possibly predominantly younger people (who have been educated in an era when the reality of the problem has been difficult to ignore) are resorting to acts of public protest and civil disobedience? But, just how bad could things get; and how fast? This is the “sting in the tail” I mentioned yesterday: You see, because I have been posting stuff on my blog in real time (i.e. I did not read the book from cover-to-cover and then start blogging about it), I may have given the impression that catastrophic change may not happen for decades and that it may take thousands of years for its effects to be fully realised. However, at the end of his book, Hansen finally comes clean and says what he thinks could really happen, how soon it might happen and, most worrying of all, that, it might actually not stop happening. Therefore, tomorrow might well be the last item I post regarding the book (i.e. because I will have reached the end)!


About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Capitalism, Climate Science, Consumerism, Economics, Environment, Ethics, Growthmania, Intergenerational Injustice, James Hansen, Liberalism, Philosophy, Politics, Storms of my Grandchildren, Sustainable development, UNFCCC and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A gross case of intergenerational injustice

  1. Thank you for sharing this Rick. I can’t wait to buy the book!! 🙂


    • Rick_Altman says:

      Thank you for your comment. I have posted (the first part of) this response on your About page too: Welcome to reality. I agree, it’s scary. I have accepted that the so-called greenhouse effect is a real problem for over 30 years but, until as recently as last year, that did not stop me considereing coal-fired power station protestors as a bit extreme. However, reading Merchants of Doubt, Requiem for a Species, and now Storms of my Grandchildren has changed all that… Each of these three books has made me scared and angry in equal measure but, as Clive Hamilton – who likens our predicament to a bereavement – says, we must get beyond self-pity and anger; and become determined to take action to bring about change.


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