Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Future Generations

If you went back in time and killed somebody, you could be found guilty of murder.

And it doesn’t even have to be a science-fiction scenario; had you acted differently in your own life on some occasion—for instance, that time you decided NOT to strangle the fucker who stole your girlfriend—you could be in jail right now, serving time for an act that happened years in the past.

Oddly, however, it doesn’t seem to work this way going forward. That is, if you are responsible for the death of someone in the future, then you’re not held accountable, even if it’s your fault.

I conclude this because, apparently, those of us living a 21st century Western civilization fossil fuel-based lifestyle are getting way with killing off our descendents some small number (perhaps only 1 or 2) generations in the future.

I heard a Peter Douglas Ward, a University of Washington paleontologist, who studies, among other things, mass extinctions, on the radio today saying that the “best case scenario” has the world’s oceans rising three feet by the end of this century. The main reason for the global temperature increase that will precipitate this scenario is human-induced climate change; it’s all the carbon dioxide we’re releasing into the atmosphere by driving cars, heating our homes, flying airplane, using petroleum-based fertilizers, etc.

And since such a rise in sea levels will ultimately result in deaths of millions, if not billions, of people, it seems clear to me that—since we’re the ones responsible for the conditions that will bring this about—we could all be held accountable for these killings, even though they’re many (but perhaps not too many) years off.

So when it’s argued that limits on carbon emissions are unfair constraints upon people’s choices, perhaps the correct response would be to point out that, usually, when you’re guilty of unjustly killing somebody, constraints follow.

Paying a carbon tax is better than going to jail, no?


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