Those who caused the problem are not the same as those who will carry the burden.
The more indirect the relation between their actions and the consequences, the lower the motivation to do something about it (consider e.g. the time lag between smoking and its health effects).
If someone causes a problem without having to bear the consequences themselves, their motivation to solve it becomes even smaller.
If those that are adversely affected can’t even hold you to account (e.g. because they aren’t born yet), it becomes tempting to not be bothered by the impending problem, even if you’re contributing to its cause.
There are not only equity issues with different parts of the world, but also with different generations: Intergenerational equity, an issue often mentioned by Jim Hansen. That is all the more pressing when you consider that our actions -or inactions- only take effect decades into the future:
Past and projected future temperature change under two scenario’s:
- Fossil intensive (SRES A1FI)
- Strong emission reductions (halved by 2050)
Note that the difference between strong emission reductions and fossil intensive becomes noticeable only after 3 decades or so: There are long time lags in the climate system.
It makes it so easy to say “it’s not our problem”…
Or is it?
Me and my daughter in the Polish Tatra mountains.
Figure above from Meinshausen et al., Nature 2009.