David Hales's White Paper
All the 2006 Principal Voices are submitting a White Paper to the Web site, explaining their views at length.
Hales, president of the ecology-centered College of the Atlantic, argues that we have a duty to future generations to fundamentally change the way that we live.
The most intractable challenges of the 21st century will be driven by human impact on the natural systems of the planet which determine the character and quality of our lives.
Over the course of this century, human society will become more sustainable, but not necessarily more desirable. We have the opportunity to choose a future that is sustainable and just, as opposed to one of conflict, inequity and scarcity.
The challenges we face are fundamentally different from those that our dominant institutions and policy processes evolved to address.
They are complex, with uncertainties at every level of analysis. They are insidious, difficult to detect or understand in early stages, yet capable of massive impacts in apparently short periods of time. They will be expensive to address, even in the early stages when the costs of mitigation or avoidance will be most difficult to justify economically and politically.
Our policy-making institutions are strategically inept, designed to allocate benefits, not scarcity, fragmented in responsibility and authority, and dominated by narrow interests, the influence of which reflects the past, not the future.
Moreover, they embody the implicit assumption that we can ignore the world's natural systems and growing inequities of human quality of life with impunity.
Sustainable policies must be firmly grounded in the realization that humans are inextricably embedded in nature.
As every farmer knows, there are limits on our behavior and consequences for exceeding these. While the purpose of government remains to enable the wellbeing of citizens, there are principles which must assume new prominence if that goal is to be attained. Simply put, we must behave prudently, empower the market, and accept responsibilities for our actions and inactions.
Of these, prudence is the first among equals. We must regard the future as a new form of "global commons." It belongs to all equally; it is not the province of any nation, or of special interests which happen to be dominant today.
As Edmund Burke argued, the present is but an inheritance from the past that belongs -- morally and legally -- to future generations as much as to the present. Governance must base policies in the "precautionary principle," as found in various forms in international soft law, in broad form in the domestic legislation of many countries, and enshrined in common sense -- look before you leap.
A fair, transparent and global market, free of protectionism, where all costs of products and services -- including environmental impacts which are transgenerational -- are included in prices, is a necessary tool for the transition to sustainability.
Governments should set clear performance goals and standards, and refrain from practices that artificially choose winners and losers.
A modest first step is for governments to refuse to subsidize the costs of waste and risk management. Nuclear power, for example, is unlikely to compete effectively with renewable energy if the costs of environmental impacts or risk management are included in the price of energy to the consumer.
Public policy must also demand and enforce a culture of responsibility. The right to private property, the drive for private profit, and the sovereignty of the state do not justify ecologically destructive behavior, and legal systems must protect all interests.
There are early -- and fragile -- signs of the emergence of these principles. The Climate Convention, with the Kyoto Protocol, recognizes the need for responsible action on a transnational basis, as well as the power of the market. There is recognition of the effective limits of sovereignty in the creation of the European Union -- the most significant development of the 20th century -- and the World Trade Organization.
Transition to societies that are sustainable and just will require rare courage and wisdom, but the consequences of inaction are undeniable. The good news, and the bad news, is that our children will live in the future we choose.
What do you think?
Until the profitability of alternative, environmentally friendly forms of energy outweighs fossil fuels in the world economy, there probably will not be the much-needed progress in this area. This is the core reason for this country's lack of support for the Kyoto Treaty. Mr. Duleep Matthai's (see below) profound observation regarding the speaking fees that Mr Al Gore charges further reinforces the obsession with greed. Would Mr Gore compromise his life style today for a better environment tomorrow? Someone should ask him. Hopefully this country and others can see the bigger picture and develop a more altruistic philosophy and policy to address global environmental concerns.
Very insightful and educational. Thank you!
Governments have historically taken the responsibility for creating and maintaining the orderliness of the world we live in. Individuals have only too willingly handed them this power on a silver platter. We need to all now wake up to a new reality facing us - one that governments, with their slow grinding machinery, vested interests and business influences, are unable to solve in the time left us.
Global warming and its impact on our lives today and for our children will be immense, costly, disruptive and very scary. The loss of thousands of species in the natural world that we take for granted will be profound. Many are already committed down the road to extinction.
Individuals have to start taking responsibility for their own carbon footprint. It's time governments pointed fingers back at the people they govern and ask: "What are you doing?"
It really is up to every individual person to decide how they answer the questions posed by their children and grandchildren - "You knew - why didn't you do anything?" One person at a time. One step at a time. What are you waiting for?
As a young person, aged 22, I'm so interested about your comments here. I've read your essay in Time magazine, which I borrowed from my roommate. And I like your argument that "We have a duty to future generations to fundamentally change the way that we live."
I remember reading an article written by a journalist where he headed the article 'The World is dying and Bush is fighting wars' It was a fantastic article and highly informative.
What really scared the hell out of me was the fact that Bush called his mate in Russia and advised him NOT to sign the Kyoto treaty.
Further to the earlier comments I sent (below), I want to add that while I consider Gandhism is the way the world should go if humanity is to survive in some state of equilibrium, may I add a simple point that as far as the formerly-called Third World countries are concerned, in our environment we do not need Western standards of consumption to be comfortable and creative./p>
That applies equally to China. Tragically, the US has ensured that all of us have adopted Western lifestyles and value systems from which it is now all but impossible to retreat.
The primary cause of environmental degradation today is consumerism, which the U.S. is promoting worldwide so aggressively and iniquitously, backed by Britain and other "developed" countries.
This must stop NOW, with the U.S. setting the example. What humanity needs today is to follow the value systems and lifestyle of the founding father of India, Mahatma Gandhi, of frugality, austerity and simplicity, i.e. "simple living & high thinking".
When Al Gore launched "An Inconvenient Truth" we in India thought he might prove to be the apostle of a new religion centered on these traits. Sadly, instead of being a missionary/crusader in this cause he demands $250,000 to speak at each showing of his film!! Why are Americans so besotted with making money ?!
Lifestyle change is going to be the most difficult. New fuels and sources to continue energizing lifestyle is vital because the average person cares less about global warming, and more about getting to work.