IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/
MyIDEAS: Login to save this article or follow this journal

Environmental Risks, Uncertainty and Intergenerational Ethics

  • Kristian Skagen Ekeli
Registered author(s):

    The way our decisions and actions can affect future generations is surrounded by uncertainty. This is evident in current discussions of environmental risks related to global climate change, biotechnology and the use and storage of nuclear energy. The aim of this paper is to consider more closely how uncertainty affects our moral responsibility to future generations, and to what extent moral agents can be held responsible for activities that inflict risks on future people. It is argued that our moral responsibility to posterity is limited because our ability to foresee how present decisions and activities will affect future people is limited. The reason for this is primarily that we are in a situation of ignorance regarding the pace and direction of future scientific and technological development. This ignorance reduces our responsibility in a temporal dimension because in most areas it is impossible to predict the interests and resource needs of future generations. In one area, however, we have fairly reliable knowledge about future people. It is reasonable to assume that future human beings will have the same basic physiological (physical and biological) needs as we have. On this basis, it is argued that we can be held responsible for activities causing avoidable damage to critical resources that are necessary to provide for future physiological needs. Furthermore, it is suggested that it is prima facie immoral to impose risks upon future generations in cases where the following conditions are fulfilled: (1) the risk poses a threat to the ability of future generations to meet their physiological needs, and (2) the risk assessment is supported by scientifically based harm scenarios.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/whp/ev/2004/000000013/00000004/art00001
    Download Restriction: downloads of articles require payment or registration of paid subscription

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

    Article provided by White Horse Press in its journal Environmental Values.

    Volume (Year): 13 (2004)
    Issue (Month): 4 (November)
    Pages: 421-448

    as
    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev13:ev1318
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.whp-journals.co.uk

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev13:ev1318. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Andrew Johnson)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.