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Protect the Future… It’s the law?

This was an intriguing bit for all you futurists out there: Andrew Revkin, in his New York Times “Dot Earth” blog post, A Push to Stop Crimes Against the Future, quotes C.G. Weeramantry, a member of the council and former vice president of the International Court of Justice, who says,

“We are today using international law in a heartless fashion, for we think only of those who are alive here and now and shut our eyes to the rest of the vast family of humanity who are yet to come. This forecloses to future generations their rights to the basic fundamentals of civilized existence: acknowledging them as holders of rights in the eyes of our law.”

On one hand, I like this idea. After all, who could argue with thinking ahead and doing so being mindful of how one’s decisions might affect future generations? This is essentially at the route of the moral argument for environmental conservation- protecting the availability of resources and a life-supporting environment for our children and beyond. But on the other hand, I find myself skeptical of our ability to always accurately predict the long-term affects of our decisions, such that we may end up making a harmful decision that appears beneficial, even in terms of projected ramifications. In other words, without the perspective of hindsight, how will we really know how to “stop crimes against the future?” This is a bit of a Minority Report-like problem, but without the precognition.

Revkin ends by asking, “Are we mature enough as a species to safeguard the rights of future generations without the threat of a day in court?” Realistically, in terms of maturity, probably not. We tend to be myopic in this regard, and I think we all know it. But assuming we grow in maturity and start thinking like time travelers in order to protect the future, we still have the limitation of being in the now looking at the future, rather than being in the future looking at the past.

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