Why We Should Care about a Sustainable Future Beyond our Own

The need to develop a sustainable society and economy is reiterated among designers and others who care about the future of our planet. The Paris Agreement cites four important issues that threaten the future of the planet: human-generated emissions, global warming, climate change’s threat to human health and life’s resources*.

Those who are not active to sustainability at a political or institutional level have to consider its importance for the future. In the near future, these issues will most certainly affect the generations alive now. But I think the care for a sustainable future extends further — these problems will affect the generations that haven’t yet been born.

Here I will consider why people of any age should now think of the importance of preserving life’s resources beyond their own lifetime.

I took a class on sustainable futures that semester, and these pressing issues that the Paris Agreement cites were explained. “We need to care about the future our planet,” they taught us. We read about predicting futures in 2080 and beyond. But I kept asking myself:

Why care about a future beyond our own?

I think this is also a psychological question.

One common explanation is that we need to conserve the world’s natural resources for posterity. We care about our children and grandchildren. Beyond that, I believe that people who care about a sustainable future are driven by other factors: compassion and appreciation of life.

We care about the natural privileges we have now: clean water, landmasses above water, and more. We recognize that our harmful practices affect these privileges that we appreciate.

We feel compassion for the people of the future whose lives are threatened because of our noxious practices. We feel a responsibility for these practices, and recognize that there’s something we can do now.

I am profoundly appreciative of the compassion of those who care for a sustainable future beyond their own. It is a testament to human connection not only to the people we know now, but to the people of the future who we will never meet.

*Natural Resources Defense Council, 2020.