On May 26, the Smithsonian Institution convened a group of thought leaders to address the most pressing challenges facing the planet. One topic was the impact of today’s decisions on tomorrow’s generations. Highlights from that conversation are below.
"(Climate change) is a commons tragedy across generations. Because each generation can in a narrow, rational sense act in its own interest, while putting the cost of dealing with the consequences of what it's done on those who come after. So in that sense, the people making the decisions are always the ones who can least be counted on to do the right thing."
“We really need to claim a grounds that says: We are in this together, for children, for inter-generations and so on. And I think that is one of our greatest challenges. That we'll have consequences for structures and politics, but that the individual sphere is, I think, being almost suffocated by hyper-consumption and hyper-individualism. We yearn to be part of something larger, and call to something larger, which is why this conversation is so important.”
"I'm optimistic because of the students I teach at Yale, who are incredibly creative and dedicated and are inheriting some of the largest problems humans have ever had to know. And therefore I'm delighted to have this group circling us of young people who are working on these issues. I think it's so appropriate, symbolically and otherwise. So my hope goes into the next generation, and into our intergenerational handshake with them."
"The science is very clear, that the planet is warming and that this is a result of rising carbon dioxide, which has a fingerprint of coming from burning of fossil fuels. There's no doubt about that. The trend for that has been well established and is projected into the future. … (Now) there's a real need for research to understand those interactive factors as an important next step—not in denying the positive direction of the climate warming, but the consequences of that, and how that will play out.”
"The next generation of scientists that's coming along is much smarter, much better integrated, and better trained than we ever were. And they're able to encompass the holistic and complex problems that we're taking on to arrive at solutions."
"The data that we collect suggests that humans are not a burden, that we're not going to reach a carrying capacity. That our capacity for innovation actually allows humans to be ever more productive. Which is why population continues to increase, and not collapse. It's because every generation we can add more."
"The globe is indeed warming, and we are largely responsible."
“Climate change is not the only problem we're facing. And we do know that some mechanisms of solving the climate challenge might actually be counterproductive to solving other challenges in the developing world. And I think that's a conversation that is a subset of this broad conversation that we're having now, that we've failed to have in a constructive way at the global level. And I hope that it’s one that we can have, that it's not taboo to contextualize climate change against other problems that we're facing. And try to devise solutions that help us address more than one thing at the same time.”
professor of law Duke University and the author of After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene