Making our children pay for mitigation

In Aaron Maltais Catriona McKinnon (ed.), The Ethics of Climate Governance. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. pp. 91-109 (2015)
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Abstract
Investments in mitigating climate change have their greatest environmental impact over the long term. As a consequence the incentives to invest in cutting greenhouse gas emissions today appear to be weak. In response to this challenge, there has been increasing attention given to the idea that current generations can be motivated to start financing mitigation at much higher levels today by shifting these costs to the future through national debt. Shifting costs to the future in this way benefits future generations by break- ing existing patterns of delaying large-scale investment in low-carbon energy and efficiency. As we will see in this chapter, it does appear to be technically feasible to transfer the costs of investments made today to the future in such a way that people alive today do not incur any net cost. the aim of this chapter is to take seriously the possibility that climate change has produced an extremely intractable political problem and that we must now consider strong measures that can break existing patterns of delaying mitigation. I defend the claim that if climate change involves a stark conflict of interests between current and future generations, then borrowing from the future would be both strategically and normatively much better than the status quo. Nevertheless, I challenge the borrowing from the future proposal on the grounds that it is not in fact the powerful tool for motivating existing agents that its proponents imagine it to be. The purpose of developing this critical argument is not, however, simply to throw doubt onto the idea of borrowing from the future. If we really do find ourselves in a political context where the prospects for effective action are very poor then strategic forms of buck-passing may make an important positive contribution to avoiding dangerous global cli- mate change. Consequently, if debt financing is not as powerful of a motivational tool as imagined we still have strong reasons, I will argue, to identify other strategies that will change agents’ incentive structures. To this end, I propose an alternative form of passing on the costs of mitigation to the future that warrants consideration.
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