Preparing for the Future: An Essay on the Rights of Future Generations

Does the present generation have a moral obligation to conserve resources for future generations? Must we accept drastic reductions in our standard of living, and give up the ideals of individual liberty and technological progress in order to preserve the environment? PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE offers an unfashionably optimistic answer to these questions: that future generations cannot have a right to a share of existing resources, because only living persons can have rights. Rejecting the sacrifices that most traditional ethical principles would require of us, it advocates, instead, that members of the present generation may legitmately use all of the resources at their disposal to realize their own values. All that a genuine concern for the fate of future generations requires is a continuing commitment to the ideals of freedom and progress. If we reject these ideals now, we may be able to conserve a meager supply of resources for the future. However, the price will be fearsomely high, for we will have seriously hampered any- attempt to improve the lot of future generations or to bequeath to posterity the best world that the present generation can create.