A Call for Intergenerational Justice
James Hansen, one our nation’s leading climate scientists and head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies recently spoke to the French National Assembly in Paris, invoking the concept of Intergenerational Justice. He concluded his address saying, “It is my job, as a father and grandfather concerned about young people, future generations, and the other species that share our planet, to point out that the path the world is on, if we stay on it, guarantees that we will push the climate system beyond tipping points. This is a moral issue, a matter of intergenerational injustice. Because of the inertia and slow response of the climate system, our generation burns most of the fossil fuels and reaps the benefits while future generations bear the costs. We, the older generations and our governments, cannot pretend that we do not understand this situation — we must accept responsibility.”
The concepts of intergenerational equity and intergenerational justice are not new, having been used for decades in the contexts of economics, social policy and natural resource stewardship. However, our responsibility to future generations has taken on new significance in the face of increasing evidence of anthropogenic global warming.
Despite public perception to the contrary, the case for global climate change grows stronger every day.
- Glaciers are receding rapidly world-wide, including the Rockies, Andes, Alps, Himalayas.
- Despite yearly variations, Arctic sea ice extent continues to trend down.
- The World Meteorological Organization has noted that the decade 2000 through 2009 was the warmest ever recorded and that although some temperate regions experienced cooler conditions, the average global temperature in 2009 was the fifth highest since climate records began in 1850.
- Both an independent review panel and the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Climate Research Unit of East Anglia University in the alleged “Climategate” scandal used by some to cast doubt on global climate concerns.
- On May 19th, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued three reports stating that there was an overwhelming case for a harmful human influence on the global climate and arguing for strong and immediate action to limit emissions of climate-altering gases in the United States and around the world.
The messages are clear, but are we willing to listen? What responsibility do we have for the lives of future generations? Could we look our children, grandchildren, or others of future generations in the eye and explain that despite clear warnings that they would pay a dear price, we chose to continue business as usual?