Future generations, environmental ethics, and global environmental change Page: 4 of 21
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put forth by Vice President Albert Gore, who observes: "Global warming, ozone depletion,
the loss of living species, deforestation-they all have a common cause: the new
relationship between human civilization and the earth's balance."'
Global environmental change policy analyses rarely reflect such sentiments in the
United States. This is because policy methods used to study global environmental
change issues are almost wholly drawn from the field of economics, and, therefore,
reflect shorter-term, consumer-based, anthropogenic-economic concerns. The most
commonly used method is cost-benefit analysis, which requires the monetization and time
discounting of all variables related to the consequences of a potential policy. There are
also several "integrated models," which incorporate reduced-form models of the global
environment and models of national economic behavior, as typically represented by
variables describing the energy sector and gross domestic product?
These economic methods are severely deficient in their ability to investigate
policies involving global environmental change, future generations, and long-term global
ecological concerns because: (1) economic theory upon which the methods are based is
not intended to be used to model the broad range of human behaviors and beliefs
required to investigate issues related to future generations and the protection of global
ecosystems; (2) many variables of importance ought not to be monetized;3 (3) discounting
of expected values of costs and benefits trivializes impacts of today's decisions upon
future generations;4 (4) the cost-benefit paradigm imposes an overly simplistic decision
environment, that of collapsing all potential evaluation criteria to only one, a monetary
unit, and then choosing which option promises higher monetary rewards; and (5) citizens
are recepients of model results rather than full partners in the analytical process.
It is not enough for those of us who are advocates for future generations and
ethical consideration of the environment to restate, again and again, the shortcomings of
Here’s what’s next.
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Tonn, B.E. Future generations, environmental ethics, and global environmental change, article, December 31, 1994; Tennessee. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc618609/m1/4/: accessed February 16, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.