The term is burdened with three abstract words but the meaning is simpler.  It refers to the study of how present generations have certain duties towards future generations with regard to the consequences of climate breakdown.   Related is the issue of how available natural resources can be used by the present generation without depleting the planet’s ecosystems for use by future generations.  And of course, the greater the climate breakdown left by the present generation, the greater will be future extreme weather events.

The question is how to balance the rights of those alive today against the rights’ of future generations.  In the area of sustainable development, it is characterized as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.”







Another expression of this dynamic between generations is found in the phrase, a “borrowed earth.”  That phrase is often attributed to a speech by native America Chief Seattle though the origin is disputed.  In any case, the phrase is: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

Some further ideas to explore on Intergenerational Climate Justice:

Determine if it is possible to calculate the present value of a major natural resource and its projected future value, assuming certain levels of depletion of that resource.

How can we balance the rights of a whole present generation against the rights of the next generation?

If the present generation has borrowed the earth from their children, can the children charge them rent?  If so, how much?


Fabian Schuppert, “Climate Change and Intergenerational Justice,” UNICEF (25 October 2012).

Joel Taylor, “Intergenerational justice: a useful perspective for heritage conservation,” CeRoArt

“Chief Seattle’s” famous speech?”, Chief Seattle Arts,

Damian Carrington, “Children set for more climate disasters than their grandparents, research shows,” The Guardian (27 Sept 2021).

Cameron Oglesby, “The generational rift over ‘intersectional environmentalism’ ” grist (10 Feb 2021).

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