Why aren't we trying to be better ancestors?

The consequences of our climate-cooking habits will burden all future humans.

Why aren't we trying to be better ancestors?
Illustration by Julia Suits, author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, and The New Yorker cartoonist.
  • Do we have a duty to be "good ancestors"?
  • Creating a legacy of a climate-worsened world is like shooting your kids in the foot.
  • Who are you free to harm? If not any one else, then surely not everyone else? Third-hand carbon counts as an ambient harm that will burden all future humans.



If you knew parts of our way of life would harm (your) kids, would you work to change them? As Greta Thunberg has forcefully made clear, we know exactly that, and must now act on that knowledge.

A "do no harm" norm sits at the heart of how we live. Your right to be free stops at where it causes harm to others (here's John Stuart Mill's statement of that principle). So if we know we are not free to harm anyone else, how can it be ok to harm everyone else (even if diffusely and indirectly)?

The climate-cooking consequences of many everyday activities (especially of high-consumption lifestyles) will harm today's kids and all future humans. They will have to live under the atmospheric carbon-burden we're creating. These third-hand carbon harms are assured by the physics of the facts of climate change (and you can't negotiate with physics).

Does that seem right or fair to you?

That very issue is being tested in an ongoing court case "Juliana vs U.S." Twenty-one kids are suing to demand "the government step[s] up to protect today's children, and future generations, from the worst effects of climate change." So they're not deprived of their "rights to life, liberty… [and the] unalienable climate system that nature endows." The government lawyers claim "there is no fundamental constitutional right to a 'stable climate system.'"

Forget the legal details, what does your heart tell you is the right thing to do? Put another way, in light of the new material and moral realities we face, are we living up to the great task and responsibility "of being good ancestors"?

Didn't many of our ancestors work to give us a shot at a decent life? Shouldn't we do the same?

Malcolm Gladwell live | How to re-examine everything you know

Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

Humans evolved for punching, study confirms

University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.

Image source: durantelallera/Shutterstock
Surprising Science
  • With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
  • The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
  • If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Keep reading Show less

To be a great innovator, learn to embrace and thrive in uncertainty

Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.

David McNew/Getty Images
Personal Growth
Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was America's first female self-made millionaire.
Keep reading Show less

Study: Private prisons result in more inmates, longer sentences

The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • After adopting strict sentencing laws in the '80s and '90s, many states have turned to for-profit prisons to handle growing prison populations.
  • A new study in Labour Economics found that privately-run prisons correlate with a rise in incarceration rates and sentence lengths.
  • While evidence is mixed, private prisons do not appear to improve recidivism or cost less than state-run facilities.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Videos

    The art of asking the right questions

    What exactly does "questions are the new answers" mean?

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast