Thursday, September 22, 2022

#266 / Future People Count

William MacAskill, a professor of philosophy at Oxford University, is the author of What We Owe the Future." You can get a pretty good idea of his argument by reading MacAskill's guest essay in the August 5, 2022, edition of The New York Times. The Times has headlined MacAskill's essay, "The Case for Longtermism." If you'd like to learn more about MacAskill, you might also want to click the following link. That link will take you to a New Yorker profile of MacAskill, "The Reluctant Prophet of Effective Altruism." 

I am fond of claiming that "we are all in this together." That is an important reminder, since we so often default to the other truth about our existence, that we are, each one of us, an individual, with each one of us having the ability to take action, by ourselves. A reminder of our collective interdependence is both welcome and important.
MacAskill wants to make sure that we understand that the insight that we are "all in this together" must absolutely include, within that "all," those of us who are yet to be born. He makes a pretty good case that we need to adopt a long term perspective, and to to consider the results of our present actions on future generations. This is, he says, a matter of "morality."

Morality, at its core, is about putting ourselves in others’ shoes and treating their interests as we do our own. When we do this at the full scale of human history, the future — where almost everyone lives and where almost all potential for joy and misery lies — comes to the fore.
If you knew you were going to live all these future lives, what would you hope we do in the present? How much carbon dioxide would you want us to emit into the atmosphere? How careful would you want us to be with new technologies that could destroy, or permanently derail, your future? How much attention would you want us to give to the impact of today’s actions on the long term?

These are some of the questions that motivate longtermism: the idea that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time.

What we need to do, now, about our continuing combustion of hydrocarbon fuels, is obviously a good example of why the "case for longtermism" is making a lot of sense to those of us who are alive today. Frankly, however, things are so bad on the "climate change" front that even a short term perspective makes it obvious what we need to do. 
Here, for a third time on this blog, is a sequence of photographs that makes the case for immediate action to eliminate, at the earliest possible moment, every emission of greenhouse gases that we have the ability to eliminate:

As for MacAskill's point about "longtermism," read his column (or his book). It's all summed up neatly in the headline for this blog posting. 

In the past, present, and future:
People Count

Image Credits:
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