Against Future Generations

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Future generations are invoked in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and increasingly often in climate debate, as a locus of responsibility for present generations. In this article, I argue against this framing. I look at the historical context and rhetorical effects of a generational frame for both present and future generations, dwelling in particular on guiding conceptions of sacrifice and legacy as well as on the construction of future scenarios and the practice of future discounting. I conclude that the appeal to future generations obfuscates, rendering a series of critical boundaries diffuse, and, in doing so, abjures concrete urgent existing responsibilities towards those alive today in the same gesture that nominally assumes them for an abstract unformed future.




Humphreys, S. (2022). Against Future Generations. In European Journal of International Law (Vol. 33, pp. 1061–1092). Oxford University Press.

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