“When you go home, tell them of us and say: ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today’”
In the context of climate change and, in particular, international governments’ inability to respond decisively- it strikes me that a more appropriate and rather less heroic epitaph for our generation may be “For our today, we gave your tomorrow.’ For whatever reason, our society seems less able, or less willing, to act in the best interests of its descendants.
The topic of intergenerational justice and environmental protection is not a new concept. The Stuttgart based think-tank Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations seeks to ensure that “today’s youth and future generations…have at least the same opportunities to meet their own needs as the generation governing today.” An echo of the Brundtland definition of sustainable development, it is familiar to everyone working in the field. So what are we missing? Where is the willingness to make changes for the sake of our great-great-grandchildren?
My hunch is that we lack the imagination, or the advanced empathy skills to feel sufficiently responsible for future generations. We are too far removed temporally and emotionally, and we lack the urgency, courage and immediate mortal danger felt by soldiers fighting in the world wars. This may be why the case for sustainability has taken several decades to gain traction. The philosopher Roman Krznaric outlines some creative strategies for closing the empathy gap across generations, including the establishment of experiential 'climate futures museums.' In the meantime, perhaps we need to emphasise the opportunity to improve well-being and prosperity for today’s global citizens. By maximising environmental, financial and social justice in our own lifetimes, we may leave better systems in place for future generations.
By Jenny Ekelund