Sustainability as an intergenerational project


in Bombs and rockets, Economics, Politics, Science, The environment

I think this quotation from Richard Feynman is rather wonderful:

We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.

It would be a splendid thing for humanity to have tens of thousands more years of history. In order to accomplish that, however, we need to find ways to keep from snuffing ourselves out, or pushing ourselves back down below the level of ‘civilization.’

Accomplishing that seems to require a process similar to the one Feynman outlines for scientific advancement. We must learn what we can about truly sustainable human societies, implement that knowledge, and then pass along that combination of learning and physical achievements to be carried forward by those who will come after.

I can’t help feeling that if Feynman was still alive, our societal discussion about climate change would be a bit more sophisticated and productive.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Pearl May 18, 2010 at 4:03 pm

I ♥ Feynman

Milan May 18, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Given the books of his I have read and what I have read about him, I feel like I know Richard Feynman to some extent.

That makes it seem especially odd that he died when I was 5 years old. That said, it shows a little slice of the extreme value from written history. It vastly opens up the scope of what we can be personally familiar with.

. May 23, 2019 at 5:42 pm

I found that, born in 1941, I have been free to burn 1,282 tonnes of carbon dioxide without serious harm to the climate. But for those born since then, budgets have been shrinking rapidly. Jason Kenney, born in 1968, has a carbon budget of 1,100 tonnes. Justin Trudeau, born in 1971, has a carbon budget of 1,054 tonnes. His oldest son, Xavier, born in 2007, has a budget of just 364 tonnes — three and a half times smaller than that for someone born in 1950.

If you have a toddler born in 2017, your kid will have to live on a carbon budget of 170 tonnes of CO2, 7.4 times smaller than someone born in 1950. To keep the planet below a 1.5 C increase, the global average carbon budget for kids born in 2017 is 43 tonnes.

These budgets vary by country — a Mexican born in 1971 has a budget of 196 tonnes, and a Pakistani just 43 tonnes. An American that is the same age as Trudeau enjoys a budget of 1,227 tonnes. I’ll let you read the article to see how these figures are calculated.

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