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would have been affected had we chosen differently – independently of the identity of those affected. Therefore, as long as we do not have a very strong aversion towards interpersonal comparisons, the non-identity problem does not relieve us from having duties to consider the good of future generations – whoever they will be.

relatively modest sacrifice today but find that it is not worth it since the bad effects in the future carry less weight.449

I believe that Parfit is right when he points out that the problem of overwhelming sacrifices is a general problem of distribution and that it is not particularly related to intergenerational matters. We have a similar problem in intragenerational ethics: There is an almost endless amount of poverty in the world, and almost any krona I make would generate a larger benefit if I give it to charity than if I spend it myself. Do I have to give up everything? This is a difficult question for utilitarianism, but no utilitarian would seriously propose that we solve it by not counting, or by discounting, the interests of our contemporaries. If it is not justifiable to use such a method in intragenerational dealings, it cannot reasonably be justifiable when we are dealing with the same problem on an intergenerational level. If we want to claim that it is, we need an independent reason why intergenerational relations are relevantly different from intragenerational relations when it comes to the question of limits to sacrifices.

Since the question of overwhelming sacrifices occurs in both inter- and intragenerational affairs it cannot in itself motivate a difference in how we should handle the two situations.

The point is that if we accept the overwhelming sacrifices in intragenerational relations then we have no excuse for not accepting them in intergenerational relations. If we do not accept such large sacrifices then that is a problem for both inter- and intragenerational ethics alike and it has to be dealt with in a way that would work both within and between generations. Discounting does not seem to be considered acceptable within generations and should therefore not be used between generations.

Robin Attfield and Avner de-Shalit point out a tension between intragenerational and intergenerational equity when they argue that it would not be reasonable to demand from those contemporary people who have less than a fair share of resources that they further decrease their use of resources for the benefit of future generations.450

In order to deal with this tension de-Shalit suggests a compromise. He suggests that when duties to future generations conflict with “a genuine need to improve the welfare of contemporaries”, we should look for what he calls “a middle way”.451

When our

… obligations to very remote future generations do not contradict obligations to contemporaries, we have no excuse not to fulfil them. If these obligations to very remote future generations clash with certain obligations to contemporaries, and especially to the worst off among our contemporaries, it is reasonable to argue that in some cases our obligations to contemporaries have some priority (although this

449 Parfit 1987 pp.184f

450 Attfield 1998 p.212, de-Shalit 1995 p.11

451 de-Shalit 1995 p.11

difference by no means cancels out our obligations to very remote future generations).452

It is not easy to draw any conclusions from this, however, and it is even harder to find any useful advice on how we should actually behave. Attfield’s solution is that we put an upper limit on how large sacrifices one can demand in order for the demands not to be unbearable and therefore ignored.453

A simpler solution would be to point out that intergenerational duties are not about one group being sacrificed for another. It is about giving equal considerations to the interests of individuals whether they live at the same or at different times. It is therefore just as unacceptable to discount the interests of a certain group of contemporaries to favour the interests of other now living or future individuals, as it is to discount the interests of future individuals to favour the interests of now living individuals.

Gregory Kavka suggests that we use Locke’s principles of just acquisition, and adapt them to an intergenerational setting. This means that it would be acceptable for us to use resources as long as we do not waste them and as long as there is “enough and as good” left for others.454 This in turn implies that we should leave the next generation at least as well off regarding resources as we were.455

What does it mean to leave enough and as good of a non-renewable resource? One way of doing so could be to limit the number of people, i.e. to limit the number of competitors for resources, in the future, and thereby decreasing the pressure on the resources.456 That is probably not what Locke had in mind. In addition, for non-renewable resources this would not be enough if we want to uphold Locke’s proviso. Even if we use the resources very sparingly, there will be less and less, and sooner or later, it will be totally depleted. Before that happens, there will be less left for each person than each of us living at the moment has used, and therefore Locke’s proviso will no longer hold.

One way of dealing with this would be to decrease the number of people in each generation and eventually let the species disappear when the resources are exhausted.

Kavka is opposed to exterminating humanity,457 but what other alternatives are there? Kavka talks about recycling and using technology to increase the output of resources,458 but that is probably not enough. Even if we get better at extracting a non-renewable resource, it will disappear eventually and we cannot recycle everything. Some resources are destroyed when we use them. In fact,

452 de-Shalit 1995 p.11

453 Attfield 1998 pp.212f

454 Kavka 1996 p.200

455 Kavka 1996 p.200 Robert Nozick and Robert Elliot are reasoning along the same lines (Melin 2001 p.130).

456 Stenmark 2000 pp.53ff

457 Kavka 1996 pp.192ff

458 Kavka 1996 pp.200f

even for the resources we can recycle, the second law of thermodynamics will eventually claim its due.

Species are special in that they are in fact renewable up to a certain point.

Locke’s proviso would therefore allow us to us the individual members of a species as long as there are enough left to secure the future existence of the species. This investigation is, however not about how to use species in a sustainable way but about the problems involved in causing the extinction of species. What we therefore need to ask ourselves is if it is in accordance with Locke’s proviso to actually cause the extinction of species. Kavka’s suggestion is therefore just not applicable to our question.

An alternative would be to widen the interpretation of Locke’s proviso and allow for substitutes.459 This approach is often advocated by economists (see chapter 2 above), and would be in accordance with, for example, the Brundtland report, which tells us that we may use or even deplete a resource as long as we compensate for the loss.460

Let us take fuel as an example. One way of leaving enough fuel to future generations is to see to it that all future generations will have as much fossil fuel at their disposal as we have had at our disposal. However, since we cannot produce fossil fuel, and since it takes nature millions of years to do so, it means that given a stabile population, we will not be allowed to use any fossil fuel at all if we have a duty to leave as much and as good for future generations as we have possessed. However, if we allow for substitutes, we can use all the fossil fuel there is, given that we find an alternative that will do the same job to the same extent and just as well. This modification of Locke’s proviso seems more reasonable, and would just take a small amendment. We only need to shift focus from the resource to what we can get from it.

What would this shift mean for our investigation? The answer is that it would reaffirm a suspicion that has been brought up before: That it seems to be acceptable from an anthropocentric instrumental perspective to drive a species to extinction as long as the service or goods we get from it can be substituted by another species or by a non-living source. This means that if we allow for substitution and concentrate our concern on the goods or service rather than on the resource as such, even in an intergenerational setting our theory will be a weaker defence against extinction, and may not be able to entirely account for the intuition we aim to explain.

459 This alternative is apparently suggested by Elliot and Nozick. See Melin 2001 p.130

460 World Commission on Environment and Development 1987 p.46. see also Stenmark 2000 pp.56, 62f