III to choose between the objectives of intergenerational and

III A human rights framework Even though present-day people might intuitively be the most obvious bearers of rights, several authors have argued that contemporaries have right-based obligations to future generations as well. In the article “Why and How Should We Represent Future Generations in Policy Making?” Beyleveld, Düwell and Spahn argue for using the framework of human rights to represent future generations. The starting point for their argument is the challenge of presentism. There is a structural bias in political decision-making towards the interests of the contemporary generation over the needs of future generations. Moreover, it is exactly this bias that the rivalry thesis seems to fuel if it is in fact necessary to choose between the objectives of intergenerational and intragenerational justice. Even though we can account for this bias by resorting to underlying psychological dispositions, the authors focus on the problem that the bias ultimately undermines the very ideal of a democracy. A democratic political system forces decision-makers to take into account the interests, rights and opinions of people that are affected by those political decisions. Since many decisions have far reaching consequences for both distant people and future generations, it is problematic that current western democratic countries fail to take these interests and needs into account.   However, anyone who supports the idea of representing future generations must deal with the so-called “”non-identity problem” described by Derek Parfit. In short, what needs to be accounted for is how present actions can violate rights of future persons if these actions at the same time determine the existence of those future persons. According to Parfit, even minor differences in our present choices and action, will imply that entirely different future persons will come into existence. This means there are no specific, determinate claimants to whom we have obligations. In other words: “How can one be harmed by an action without which one would not have existed at all?” Instead of arguing that rights are properties, it could also be argued that rights refer to moral relationships; e.g. they bind people through moral and/or legal obligations. By arguing that the features that make people eligible for rights are general and do not refer to the specific identity of the rights bearer, it can be argued that contemporaries have obligations to anyone who might suffer the ill consequences of our present choices. Correspondingly, the argument by Beyleveld, Düwell and Spahn shows that based on the very idea of human rights, it can be argued that it is morally required to install institutions that enable us to meet our obligations towards future people’s basic needs. Denying that future generations have the same human rights as we do is to deny that there are human rights at all. To quote: “Just as the basic rights of current living generations underpin democratic majority vote and representation, so should the rights of future generations govern our political decisions and any procedural attempt to represent their rights and interests should start from this assumption.” The Principle of Generic Consistency is discussed as a philosophical foundation for human rights. It is argued that this foundation abstracts from all all person-specific, individualistic aspects that give rise to the non-identity problem, while nevertheless starting from an agential perspective. Ultimately, their paper shows that if there are human rights then we must accept far-reaching moral obligations towards future generations and drastic restrictions on what we consider to be morally legitimate actions. If the moral basis of democratic governance appeals to some ideas about the dignity and rights of all human beings, then we must recognise the obligations towards the basic living conditions of future persons. It will be only political institutions and their decisions that can install institutions that enables us to meet our obligations towards their rights, but such an installment is morally required by the very idea of human rights. In another article by Düwell and Boss it is argued that “Over the long run, it is quite likely that we can fulfil our duties towards future people and maintain the self-governance of current people at the same time only if we develop new forms of governance: stronger international and global institutions that can deal effectively with questions of sustainability but at the same time are accountable towards democratic polities. To take such a step on the supranational level may be a necessary consequence of our duties regarding future people.” Prioritising the needs of present people over the needs of distant people (in time and space) cannot be considered to be morally legitimate. Therefore, the way the rivalry hypothesis separates the objectives and fuels biases to focus on the “here and how” is problematic. IV Ways out of the tension The challenge in sustainable development is to look for solutions that secure the needs of all; fulfill both the justified claims of present and future people. Sustainable development is not about achieving either intergenerational or intragenerational justice, it is about achieving both intergenerational and intragenerational justice. To put it in the language of logic: we are dealing with a conjunction (?) not a disjunction (V). To analyse the statement “intergenerational and intragenerational justice,” denoted “p ? q”, we first have to think of all the combinations of truth values for p and for q, and then decide how those combinations influence the “and” statement. For “p ? q” to be true (T), we would need both p and q to be true, whereas for “p V q” to be true, we would need only one (or both) to be true (see table 1). Truth tablepqp V qp ? qFFFFTFTFFTTFTTTTBy assuming the correctness of the rivalry hypothesis, I take for granted there is a fundamental tension between the objectives of intragenerational and intergenerational ecological justice. The discussion in section 1 and 2 seem to suggest there is an actual need to prioritise — choose between — the objectives. However, the previous section has shown that we in fact ought to take into account both the needs of present and future generations. Keeping in mind the ethical formula “ought implies can” it is important to investigate what ways (if any) are then still open for sustainable development. In other words, what is needed more to make sense of sustainable development? Because if (1) sustainable development contains both the objectives of inter- and intragenerational justice necessarily, and if (2) the objectives are necessarily in conflict with each other, then (3) there needs to be a weighting principle or method that can guide is in making trade-offs.The human rights framework deepened the problem as it provided a philosophical foundation for why it is important to integrate all interests – including those of future generations – into the structure of democratic decision making. However, it did not directly provide a solution; all rights need to safeguarded, but there are not enough resources to fulfil both the justified claims of present and future people. In this section I will therefore briefly discuss possible perspectives that might provide a solution to the problem.   Other principles might be better able to guide is in making a trade-off between inter- and intragenerational justice. Such as “”the future will solve the problems” (risk-principle) or the precautionary principle (in which the future generations, by mere fact that there will be more than one generation and that this weights heavier than the current one generation alive, that options that endanger the multiple future generations are more problematic than options that do not contain that risk but put more hardships on current generations). Another view could entail that for a sustainable relation to our world, we need to go down in welfare – this weight can be put more on future generations. Taking into account the doubts of advocates of the rivalry hypothesis that it is possible to change political (power relations), it could for instance be suggested to not take away existing  rights, but to let it slowly develop into a less welfare “state of the world” than we are in now. Yet another possibility to solve the tension could entail showing how intragenerational justice does, actually, include long-term solutions as well: no one wants to live in areas that are polluted, bad for the health, etc. Everyone wants to visit forest and other ongerepte natuur. But protecting these things cannot be: I protect it for the next five years or to the end of this generation. So, in a way: making it right for the generation now – on the ecological level – makes it right for future generations as well. = proving wrong the rivalry hypothesis, arguing for a facilitation hypothesis. We might find hope in either technological progress or global cooperation between nations and peoples to find a way out of the tension between inter- and intragenerational justice. By not allowing a prioritisation of our current needs over the needs of future people, or vice versa, it will become clear that some scenarios are “simply” off the table. What is crucial in this regard is to find out first “what we have” to share. To prevent further ecosystem degradation, increasing consumption at one place requires decreasing it elsewhere or creating more to consume; the global North might be required to change lifestyles and consumer behaviour, or prove to be capable of exploiting Mars or substituting ecosystem services by human-made alternatives. However, such a technofix might be just as idealistic as dreaming of increased support for a global redistribution of environmental property rights and institutional restriction of ecosystem use. However, if any measure shows that  intergenerational and intragenerational justice can be achieved independently, or in case achieving one at the same time facilitates the other, there is no pressing problem as this proves the rivalry thesis wrong. It is however also possible that the rivalry hypothesis holds true – not due to failure of our institutions and political restrictions, but because the damage caused already will lead to imminent collapse – then this might in fact require us to abandon the entire notion of “sustainable development.”ConclusionThe rivalry hypothesis might convince people / policy makers to think about which objectives to prioritise. However, neither the idea of “sustainable development” nor the ideal of democracy allows for such a separation in objectives. Separating the objectives and opening up the discussion about which should be prioritised, might help to achieve either intergenerational or intragenerational justice. I have argued that both objectives are worth pursuing in their own right and achievements by different environmentalist movements can really make the world a better place. However, anything that contributes to either intergenerational or intragenerational justice – instead of both – cannot be labelled “sustainable development,” but can be considered laudable as long as they do not compromise the other. Such scenarios would, however, simultaneously prove the rivalry hypothesis wrong.


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