Or perhaps call this an idea that makes the damages harder to think about …
Wouldn’t a surefire way to stop global warming from destroying future generations be stopping future generations from existing? We don’t even have to be brutal about it – just ban human procreation. Without humans around, there can be no damage, is that right? And even if you are a naturalist ethicist, wouldn’t this, too, solve the problem? Or if rocks have rights, do humans have to restore the planet to its past glory before deciding to stop procreating?
But think outside of the absurdity box for a moment – I know that is hard when it comes to global warming. Holding technology constant, it seems pretty obvious that the damages due to global warming increase with the population growth expected in the future. The IPCC uses this assumption, which means at least for the time being they recognize future human beings as valuable, despite what some in the apocaholic community believe. But this then presents us with a conundrum. If future generations have rights, and this is the source for the legitimacy of the arguments that we should tax ourselves to prevent massive harm to them, are there not any reciprocal obligations? Do I, for example, have any say as to whether your family has another kid? The more kids you have, the more future damages will be, and the larger my tax burden today. But you don’t have the kid now, and you therefore are imposing a very real externality on me via the birth of your kid (I do not endorse this of course given my belief that the birth of one statistical kid will be on net good for the planet and not bad)? If I don’t get a say in whether you have kids, should I at least not get a say in where that kid chooses to live, or the occupations she chooses? Or do only I have to bear those kinds of costs? For example, if Sandy is a precursor for the damage from global warming, why can I not mandate that your future kid does not live near the Atlantic Coast?
Of course I find such questions silly, which is probably why they’re worth asking.