Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to Guardian Columnist George Monbiot, if we treat future generations not yet born as having equal rights to the living, property rights will have to be radically adjusted; we’re all effectively tenants, holding land in trust which will be passed to future generations who enjoy the same rights as us, even before they are born.
Capitalism is destroying the Earth. We need a new human right for future generations
The children on climate strike are right: their lives should not be sacrificed to satisfy our greed
At the heart of capitalism is a vast and scarcely examined assumption: you are entitled to as great a share of the world’s resources as your money can buy.
So what should take its place? It seems to me that the founding principle of any just system is that those who are not yet alive will, when they are born, have the same rights as those who are alive today. … “Every generation shall have an equal right to the enjoyment of natural wealth.”
This principle is hard to dispute, but it seems to change everything. Immediately, it tells us that no renewable resource should be used beyond its rate of replenishment. No non-renewable resource should be used that cannot be fully recycled and reused. This leads inexorably to towards two major shifts: a circular economy from which materials are never lost; and the end of fossil fuel combustion.
But what of the Earth itself? In this densely populated world, all land ownership necessarily precludes ownership by others. Article 17 of the Universal Declaration is self-contradictory. It says, “Everyone has the right to own property.” But because it places no limit on the amount one person can possess, it ensures that everyone does not have this right. I would change it to this: “Everyone has the right to use property without infringing the rights of others to use property.” The implication is that everyone born today would acquire an equal right of use, or would need to be compensated for their exclusion. One way of implementing this is through major land taxes, paid into a sovereign wealth fund. It would alter and restrict the concept of ownership, and ensure that economies tended towards distribution, rather than concentration.
…Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/15/capitalism-destroying-earth-human-right-climate-strike-children
Are the climate change strikers in tune with Monbiot’s thinking? I suspect so. Their manifesto seems to boil down to a demand that their parents provide them with free stuff. Like Monbiot they don’t appear to recognise that the effort others have put into improvement provide those others with any entitlements, or that they have any personal responsibility for their own upkeep or wellbeing.
As for Monbiot’s idea that we should accommodate the rights of future generations, frankly we have no idea what future generations will need.
The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894 is a classic example of panicking over future problems which never manifested. Cities were covered in vast piles of stinking horse manure, and the rotting corpses of dead horses. Projecting known population growth, city planners were aghast at the looming crisis – in 1894, The Times newspaper predicted… “In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.”
In just a few short years nobody wanted horses anymore. Clouds of smoke from primitive engines and exhausts were far preferable to vast stinking piles of renewable horse manure.