Brian Barry, Sustainability and Intergenerational Justice



2.      Intragenerational verus intergenerational justice

         a.      Obligations to the poor and destitute in our world today (intra)

         b.      Obligations to future generations (inter)


3.      Question of intergenerational justice

         a.      We are temporary custodians of the planet

         b.      Can do a better or worse job of handing earth on to our successors

         c.      What should we be doing to preserve conditions that will make life worth living (or liveable at all) for those who are here when everyone today is gone (future generations)

4.      Distinction: What is one's duty to do and what is above and beyond the call of duty (supererogatory)

         a.      One’s duty: wrong not to do

                   i.       E.g., leave the world in as good a shape as it is given to us; wrong to pass on a less desirable world

         b.      Not one’s duty but good to do, but not one’s duty; not wrong if one doesn’t do it: Desirable, virtuous, benevolent, supererogatory to do for others

                   i.       E.g., Pass on the world in much better shape than it was given to us one’s perspective.

5.      Axiom of justice: Fundamental equality of human beings

         a.      Because this premise does not consider the time at which people live, principles of justice valid for people today also apply to our relation to future people



7.      One: Equal rights: Civil and political rights must be equal

         a.      Exceptions justified only if receive well-informed assent of those who get less

                   i.       Here again, explains why no rights for nonhumans

         b.      Equal rights apply only to intra, not intergenerational justice

                   i.       Principle of equal rights only applies to contemporaries

                   ii.      Absurd to say it is unfair/unjust that women had fewer rights 100 years than today

                   iii.     Not absurd to say that it was unjust that they had fewer rights than men of the time

         c.      But we can affect likelihood that there will be equal rights in future

                   i.       More env. stress we leave our successors, less chance they will have equal rights

                   ii.      For rights suffer when large challenges to systems demands rapid and co-ordinated responses

8.      Two: Responsibility: Justifies inequalities of outcome that arise from choice

         a.      Different outcomes for different people okay if they are due to people’s different voluntary choices

         b.      Responsibility applied to intergenerational justice

                   i.       **People in future can’t be held responsible for “physical conditions” they inherit, so it would be unjust if future people inherit worse physical conditions than we have

                   ii.      Did past generations treat us unjustly by passing on a worse “physical conditions” to us? Did they?

                   iii.     Future people are responsible for their population size

                            (1)    A bit strange for they inherit this population number from us too–thought they change it as they go along

9.      Three: Vital interests: Justice requires that higher priority be given to ensure that everyone (all humans) has the means to satisfy their vital interests than to ensure everyone can satisfy nonbasic interests

         a.      Unjust for society to give people the opportunity to satisfy nonbasic desires, while others don’t have the ability to satisfy basic ones

         b.      Vital (basic) interests: Objective requirements for human life: live healthy lives, raise families, work at full capacity, take part in social and political life

                   i.       Cruise boats with captains for some people, while others can’t feed their children or afford health care/insurance

         c.      Vital interests applied to intergenerational justice

                   i.       Location in space/time not affect legitimate claims (universalism); not a relevant reason for treating people differently

                            (1)    Fact a person is father away from you doesn’t lessen that person’s claims

                            (2)    Fact a person distant in time doesn’t less legitimate claims

                   ii.      Vital interest of future people have same priority as vital interest of those today

                            (1)    E.g., so we should not provide ourselves the opportunity to satisfy our trivial desires when so doing undermines the ability of future people to satisfy their basic needs

         d.      This principle is subordinate to the principle of responsibility (latter takes precedence)

10.    Four: Mutual advantage: If everyone will benefit from a departure from outcome of first three principles, okay to make the change



12.    Shortchanging our successors: Origin of concern about sustainability comes from suspicion that we are doing this to them

13.    We should not act in a way that leaves them less of what matters than what we enjoy

14.    Core concept of sustainability,: Some X (what matters) whose value should be maintained (as far as we can) into the indefinite future



         a.      What is the X, the thing that matters, we need to pass on

16.    One: We should insure that they have the ability to satisfy their preferences/wants as much as we have the ability to satisfy ours? No.

         a.      Why utility/want/preference satisfaction is not X, not what should be sustained

                   i.       Because could imagine them to have perverse wants

                   ii.      People in future might learn to find satisfaction in totally artificial landscapes, walking on astroturf with plastic trees in which electronic birds sing overhead

                   iii.     “Can’t help but believe something horrible would have happened to them if not miss real grass, trees, birds”

         b.      Unspoiled nature is essential part of what matters, so future people need to have access to this (even if their wants would be fully satisfied in a situation w/o it)

         c.      “We should leave future generations mountains that have not been strip-mined, quarried, despoiled by ski-slopes, or otherwise tampered with to make somebody a profit”

17.    Two: Sustain their chance to live a good life as we conceive it? No.

         a.      Objectionable: For essential to humans is their ability to form own conceptions of good life

         b.      Presumptions and unfair to pre-empt their choices

18.    Three: Should provide future generations with opportunity to live good lives according to their conception of what constitutes a good life? Yes

19.    Must leave them world conditions that can sustain a wide range of possible conceptions of the good life

         a.      We can’t imagine in detail what they may think is a good life

         b.      Can know it will require that vital interests can be met

                   i.       Adequate nutrition, clean drinking-water, clothing, housing, health care, education

         c.      Also must leave them possibility of living in a world in which nature is not utterly subordinated to pursuit of consumer satisfaction

20.    Intergenerational justice requires sustainability and that means leaving them a world were they have possibility of being as well off as we are

21.    Future generations–unless they make the choice themselves (and thus are responsible for it)–should not be worse off than we are

         a.      Since they can’t be responsible for state of planet they inherit

         b.      Need to leave future with possibility of not falling below our level

                   i.       They might choose (by overpopulation) to not realize this possibility

                   ii.      They might destroy this possibility for the succeeding generation by going on a “gigantic spree” and leaving next generation impoverished

22.    Justice does not require providing equal opportunity (for a life as good as ours) to each future person, no matter how many there are

         a.      Population increase in future are the responsibility of those folks; if they choose to let it increase, it should be at their own cost, not ours

                   i.       Justice does not require that we accommodate their profligacy

                   ii.      Justice does not require that we “immiserate” ourselves so that their huge population will be able to survive

         b.      Justice requires we leave the future with equal opportunity assuming that there will be no greater numbers than their now are


23.    Barry’s response to reality population is going to grow

         a.      We know how to stabilize population with voluntary choice

         b.      Educate women, give them rewarding opportunities outside home

         c.      Compulsory full-time education for children and stringent child-labor laws that make children an economic burden rather than a benefit

         d.      Because so many people now below 15 years of age, population still would double with each having 2 children

         e.      No violation of intragenerational justice to mandate only one child (as long as across the board)

24.    Question

         a.      Is Barry saying that present generations must control populations growth so as not to burden the future, or is he putting this on future people?


25.    Barry believes that providing equal opportunity for the future (and in a way that they could provide it for the further future, and so on) will be very difficult and impossible if we let population continue to grow

         a.      “Doing everything possible to reduce population growth as well as to conserve resources and reduce depletion”

         b.      Sustainability is a function of both population size and resources depletion, so if doing bad on one (depleting resources too fast), could make it up by reducing other (population)


26.    Worries that we could provide enough for sustainability to the future as a whole but that it will predictably be mal-distributed so that many future people will not have vital interests met

         a.      Says that intragenerational injustice in the future is almost inevitably a consequence of intragenerational injustice in the present

         b.      So that means that justice to future generations requires that we solve our injustice within present generation



28.    Concern for future requires big changes now

         a.      “Virtually everybody who has seriously studied issue and is not biased by religious convictions or corporate funding thinks that the most elementary concern for future people demands big changes in we act today”

29.    We know we are going to fall short of what intergenerational justice requires

         a.      There is absolutely no risk that we will do more than is required.

30.    So we should always push for doing more

31.    Justice towards the future requires change now

         a.      “Measures to improve prospects of future generations are not optional benevolence on our part but demanded by elementary considerations of justice”



33.    The further into the future we go, less confident we can be about what those people’s preferences will be

34.    The most important thing a theory of intergenerational justice “should deliver” is a reason for people in rich countries to cut back so as to improve prospects of future people in other (e.g., poor) communities