Why generational pressure is the key to climate change policy

Change is coming, but not from the generation that currently holds positions of power.

DANIEL C. ESTY: The key to progress on environment broadly and on climate change in particular is to change values. I think this has to be understood as in some regards an ethical issue, a moral issue. And one has to see it as a wrong to contaminate the planet and to put at risk the future of humanity on the planet. And I think that change is coming and curiously but perhaps not really surprisingly it is coming from young people much more from the generation that's currently in positions of leadership. Greta and other young people are out there saying to the leaders in political positions of power not only in the United States but across the world: Step up, you need to do more. And I think we have seen again and again that transformational change is often driven by generational change. And I think it's almost certainly going to be true on climate change. Fifty years ago if we'd had this interview I'd probably be smoking or maybe smoking a pipe as a professor. That's so unacceptable now you don't even have to tell me that I can't come in and light up a cigarette.

Norms have changed. Values have changed. We know now that that's completely unacceptable and a threat to public health. And I think we're starting to get there on climate change. Things that might have in the past seemed normal, acceptable, even if they seemed a little bad, a little bit of harm are increasingly totally unacceptable. And we therefore have I think the foundation for the kind of generational change and change in values that can really drive us more quickly towards climate change solutions.

In our Better Planet book there's a really beautiful essay by one of the students at Yale, one of several student essays in this case by a guy named Paul Rink spelling out how young people in particular are starting to drive some of these court cases where they take on both the government and the big energy industry companies and say it's up to you to make our future secure and you're not doing the job you need to do.

And I do think that that risk that there will be a change in society's values and that the court system, the judges, the legal community will begin to say to the energy world you do have some responsibility here. You're not protected from liability and that prospect might get the energy companies to become part of the solution as opposed to leading the problem. If you want to ask me about the best path forward it would be to get those energy companies to transform the vision of themselves from being oil companies or worse yet coal companies and to really think of themselves as leaders of a path to a clean energy future. And I think there is evidence that people have done that in the past in other arenas, and I think it could be done here.

  • With figures like Greta Thunberg and demonstrations like the global climate strike, it's become apparent that young people are driving the effort to stop climate change.
  • This generational pressure is the key to change. In the same way that smoking became less accepted in society, even frowned upon, so too can the behaviors that have sped up climate change.
  • Moving forward, energy companies will play a major role if they can reimagine themselves as part of the solution to this crisis and forge a better path to save the planet.

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Study suggests sperm donation, like organs, should be allowed post-mortem

Is it ethical to use a dead man's sperm to become pregnant?

Photo by Lina White on Unsplash
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  • Many parts of the world are suffering from a shortage of sperm donors due to the high bar for acceptance and varying laws regarding donor anonymity.
  • A recent article suggested that, as a solution, we should consider allowing men to opt-in to posthumous sperm donation, much like men and women do for organ donation.
  • It's technically feasible, but how would we navigate the complex ethical and legal issues surrounding such a proposal?

Can, and should, dead men procreate? Yes and yes, says a recent article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

The UK is facing a sperm donor crisis. According to the article, UK sperm banks only take on a few hundred new donors per year, forcing them to import thousands of sperm samples from the U.S. and Denmark, which dominate the global market for sperm donations due to their high supply.

These countries have a high supply of sperm primarily because of laws and regulations protecting the donor's anonymity — in the UK, for instance, babies born from sperm donations are permitted to contact their biological father after they turn 18, an emotional confrontation that dissuades many from donating. In fact, in a 2016 study based in the U.S., 29 percent of current donors said they would have refused to donate if they could not be anonymous.

How can we increase the supply of sperm donors while simultaneously shielding donors from a potentially life-upending confrontation and providing children with the right to know their own ancestry? Allow for post-mortem sperm donations. Men could opt-in to become sperm donors after their death, just like they do as organ donors. So long as they were collected no longer than 48 hours after death, sperm could be collected via surgery or electrical stimulation of the prostate and be frozen for later use.

"If it is morally acceptable that individuals can donate their tissues to relieve the suffering of others in 'life-enhancing transplants' for diseases," wrote the article authors, "we see no reason this cannot be extended to other forms of suffering like infertility."

A legal and ethical quandary?

As it turns out, this idea isn't all that new. The first posthumous sperm retrieval occurred in 1980 after a 30-year-old man suffered a fatal brain injury in a car accident. His family requested that his sperm be preserved, which was done through surgery soon after he had been declared dead.

There have been numerous postmortem sperm retrievals since then, but they've always existed in a legal grey area. For instance, in 1997, a UK man named Stephen Blood caught meningitis, collapsed into a coma, and died soon after. His wife, Diane Blood, had requested that doctors extract two samples of semen from Mr. Blood.

However, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority had forbidden Mrs. Blood from using those samples to become pregnant, as Mr. Blood had passed away prior to giving written consent to the procedure. In the UK posthumous sperm donation is illegal without written consent. After an appeal, Mrs. Blood was permitted to seek fertility treatment outside of the UK and later gave birth to a son.

Other countries, such as France, Germany, and Taiwan, have a full ban on posthumous fertilization. At the same time, countries like the U.S. and Belgium have no legislation on the subject whatsoever. Given the complex legal, ethical, and medical nature of posthumous fertilization, this range of legislative response is not unexpected. For example, is it ethical to collect sperm from an individual who never wanted to procreate in a country where the young population is dwindling and sperm donors are in short supply? Such is the case in many parts of the UK Is it reasonable to collect sperm from donors who have died and who are, by extension, more likely to be older and with less healthy sperm? Is the offspring of a deceased sperm donor considered to be the donor's legal heir?

These and other issues muddy the waters for countries when crafting policies around posthumous sperm donation. However, the authors of the recent Journal of Medical Ethics article argue that allowing for this procedure is at the very least ethically permissible and likely beneficial for society at large.

"The ability to reproduce matters to people and donated sperm enables many people to fulfill their reproductive desires," write the authors. "It is both feasible and morally permissible for men to volunteer their sperm to be donated to strangers after death in order to ensure sufficient quantities of sperm with desired qualities."