In rich countries, environmental problems are seen as problems of prosperity. In poor countries they are seen as problems of poverty. This is because the environmental problems in poor countries, such as lack of clean drinking water, are problems that affect them here and now, whereas in rich counties the environmental problems that people worry about, most are those that - largely as a result of current prosperity and economic growth - seem likely to harm mainly future generations. But what exactly are our obligations to future generations? Are these determined by their 'rights' or intergenerational justice, or equity, or 'sustainable development'? The first part of the book argues that none of these concepts provides any guidance, but that we still have a moral obligation to take account of the interests that future generations will have. And an appraisal of probable developments suggests that, while environmental problems have to be taken seriously, our main obligation to future generations is to bequeath to them a society in which there is greater respect for basic human rights than is the case today. Furthermore, generations are not homogeneous entities.
Resources devoted to environmental protection cannot be used for, say, health care or education or housing, not to mention the urgent claims in poor countries for better food, sanitation, drinking water, shelter, and basic infrastructures to prevent or cure widespread disease. It cannot serve the interests of justice if the burden of protecting the environment for the benefit of posterity is born mainly by poorer people today.