What Do We Owe Our Children?

Author: Gary Hart

On more than one occasion, I’ve raised the question whether the Constitution’s preamble, setting out our national purposes for “ourselves and our posterity,” creates a binding obligation on each generation to govern not only for itself but also for future generations.  The concept is a revolutionary one even for a new revolutionary nation.  The Constitutional, legal, and most of all moral implications of this mandate are staggering.

Professor Burns Weston and his colleagues at the University of Vermont Law School have done more scholarly work on this idea than any others I’m aware of.  Their publications are on the cutting edge of legal and political thinking concerning intergenerational accountability.  Every elected and appointed official, federal, State, and local, should be required to read what they have produced.

No current issue confronts this question more starkly than the climate legislation now pending in the U.S. Senate and the debate underway in Copenhagen.  If your political philosophy is everyman-for-himself-and-devil-take-the-hindmost, and especially if you are above a certain age, you can join the deniers and say: What the hell.  If, however, you possess any kind of moral sense (including those who make the loudest religious claims) and if you take the Constitutional obligation to “our posterity” seriously, you must consider the kind of destabilized world we are leaving for future generations.

And for those in between who will not take the trouble to learn, Dante offers the lesson: There is a special place in hell for those who, in times of moral crisis, preserve their neutrality.

Some issues transcend ideology and politics: poverty; nuclear arms races; war and peace; child nutrition; homelessness.  The future climate is one of these.  Presumably, those operating businesses that produce greenhouse gasses have children.  They may leave their children private legacies of wealth.  But they also are leaving them a public legacy of destruction that is possibly irreversible.

When one’s life is weighed on the scale of eternity, what is more important: money or a healthy climate?

6 Responses to “What Do We Owe Our Children?”

  1. Brian Ross Says:

    Gary, excellent article. Brian

  2. Bill Holen Says:

    Well said Gary.

  3. Tom J. Flaherty Says:

    The Cream of the Crop.

    When it goes to the Preamble I’m a sucker for it but this piece is especially well put. The look to the future for a more perfect union for our children,ah good on you. Thank you for Profesor Burn Westons name I’ll try to check out the work.

    All the Best,


  4. Jeff Simpson Says:

    I have come to believe that climate change denialists are either selfish or stupid. The effective delivery of their message, however, precludes the latter. Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex, and yet we have not heeded his warning about curbing improper influence in the political sphere. Somewhere along the way the right to petition became the exclusivity of access afforded only to big donors, and hence only the voices of those with the deepest pockets are heard.

    Removal of big money from politics to prevent what the Founding Fathers might rightly have viewed as the total subversion of the democratic process will be difficult, but we should not shy from an action just because it will be arduous. Requiring that all broadcast stations, in order to maintain their FCC license, must donate free airtime to viable political candidates would help lessen the importance of the size of the warchest, thus allowing more long-term (and less business-friendly) messages to be heard.

  5. Tom Gleason Says:

    Gary: it struck me in reading your post on climate change that one could insert the terms “our exploding national debt” in place of”future climate” and”our federal government” in place of “operating businesses”to describe another “public legacy of destruction that is possibly irreversible.” While both Democrat and Republican presidents and congresses should share the blame, the Obama Administration and a Congress that has been controlled by Democrats since January 2007 have accelerated us at breakneck speed toward another
    type of devastation in the “destabilized world” we are leaving future generations.

  6. debt arbitration Says:

    I kinda like this article, i think its uplifting to our members. so many things to learn and i hope you always write great stuff on this site. tnx

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