Why we should think about Ramadan and future generations
When making decisions about a business investment, one could look at an asset or a firm’s net present value discounted over time considered against risk factors, among other important data. But the decisions about whether to build another refinery or car showroom are simple compared to the huge decisions world leaders now face.
How do we decide on whether to focus more on having a better climate? How do we decide on whether to give up on trying to keep emissions low and produce more oil and gas for energy security? How do we decide how to protect national and international security? How do we ensure better health and education for the future? How do we decide on what food to grow, and how we develop it in the long run? How do we decide between using chemical or natural fertilizers? How do we decide between our present linear economies and circular economies?
Circular economies reduce waste and reuse products and inputs. Recycling is a big part of a true circular economy. Linear economies run like this — we create products, they become obsolete, and then we throw them away. Circular economies reduce waste and reduce the overall resources used to create the goods and services we need. We are using up resources that could be reused by future generations. Important resources that rust and rot in landfills do not help anyone.
We waste between 30 percent to 40 percent of our food. We waste or reject over 60 percent of the energy that could have been used. We waste massive amounts of water. We are a world of wasters. Wasters do not help future generations. Wasters do not help even the people here now.
We are using, wasting, polluting, and otherwise damaging resources that future generations will need. Is this fair to future generations? No. Is this moral and ethical behavior when considering the long run? No.
The next time you see your family, the next time you get together with friends, please try to think about the next generations to come. Remind yourself of what might be the right and wrong of this while enjoying yourself at those picnics, dinners, weddings, birthday parties, iftars and suhoors.
Look at the infants and younger people. What world will we leave to them? Are we being fair to them? Now think of far away generations. They are not here yet, but they will still need a world where they can reasonably grow food and heat themselves.
Changing why and how we do things takes thought — and I do not mean just intellectual thought. This also entails moral, ethical, and spiritual-religious thought.
We discount things that will happen in the future. That means they seem less valuable in a year or in 100 years than if we had them now. What does your mind tell you about someone giving you a small box of gold today? What if someone said they would give that same box to you in 100 years. You see, you discounted. We also discount the value of improving the lives of future generations. And we discount very distant future generations to the value of zero.
Could we leave future generations much worse off than we are now? Yes. The way trends are going there is a good chance that will happen.
Dr. Paul Sullivan
We all live with bounded rationality, also. Looking one hundred years into the future is really complicated. There is uncertainty. There are no data from the future today. Things could change. We are bound by the things we can think about. We are constrained by what we can know — compared to reasonable guesses about the future. But does that mean we give up on thinking about these things? No.
As my Muslim friends, colleagues, and readers know, Ramadan is a time to consider what life is like for the poor, the downtrodden, and the dispossessed. One of the main reasons for the fast is so a Muslim can get a feel for what it is like to be less fortunate. Going a full day without water and food on a sweltering day is hard. Now try that regularly, without choice, for a significant part of a lifetime.
What if we are unfair to future generations by leaving them less water, less food, and less housing. What if we leave them more economically and environmentally stringent lives? If we do not take care of climate change, energy, water, and food what will life be like in the future for our great-great-great-grandchildren and beyond? Could we leave future generations much worse off than we are now? Yes. The way trends are going there is a good chance that will happen.
Please consider future generations. If you are a leader in business, academia, the military, science, technology, government, diplomacy, and other vital fields please think about how you could make life for those future generations better. Think of what policies could make that so. Think of what improving water, energy, food security, reliability, and resilience could do for both the present and future generations.
Also, think of the “why” of your policies. That may be the most important part of being a leader. What is your reason?
We share this planet today. We need to consider future generations who will inherit this world as better or worse. We are all more alike than different. People are people. Future generations will be people also.
And we have intergenerational responsibilities whether we want to think about them or not.
• Dr. Paul Sullivan is a senior research associate at KFCRIS and non-resident fellow, Global Energy Center, Atlantic Council.