Joseph Desjardins' Perspective on The Rapid Growth of Population and Our Responsibilities to Future Ancestors

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1128 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Jan 4, 2019

Words: 1128|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Jan 4, 2019


Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. DesJardins' Approach to Environmental Sustainability
  3. Understanding Responsibility
  4. Historical Perspective
  5. Conclusion


Joseph DesJardins, an influential environmental ethicist renowned for his work "Environmental Ethics," delves into the critical issue of "Responsibilities to Future Generations" in the fourth chapter of his book. DesJardins underscores the world's burgeoning population and the consequential challenges it poses. The relentless rise in consumption patterns, if left unchecked, threatens to trigger both environmental and economic calamities stemming from the depletion of vital resources. DesJardins posits that humanity's impact on the environment can be effectively measured by the interplay of three factors: population growth, consumption rates, affluence levels, and technological innovations. Given the historical evidence pointing to sustained population growth, the imperative for current generations lies in minimizing their ecological footprint by curtailing consumption and fostering technological progress. In essence, DesJardins advocates an anthropocentric approach to environmental sustainability, emphasizing the moral and pragmatic necessity of conserving resources for the sake of future generations.

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DesJardins' Approach to Environmental Sustainability

Understanding Responsibility

The complexities inherent in environmental ethics become evident when grappling with the intricate question of what responsibilities we owe to posterity. One lens through which to examine this issue is utilitarian theory, which posits that the optimal course of action should minimize suffering and maximize happiness for the greatest number of individuals. However, a recurring ethical dilemma with utilitarianism lies in the nebulous concept of "maximal happiness." Furthermore, in the framework of utilitarian theory, immediate and tangible pleasures are often valued more highly than uncertain, distant ones. This tendency leads to a devaluation of the happiness of future generations in comparison to the present. However, as DesJardins compellingly argues, discounting the welfare of future generations to the point of rendering it inconsequential is morally untenable, as ethical principles demand that we treat all individuals as equals. Drawing on Mary Williams' insights, DesJardins contends that resource depletion is fundamentally incompatible with utilitarian theory, as it leads to the cessation of resource value, ultimately undermining the greater good. Williams proposes the adoption of a policy known as "maximum sustainable yield," where resources should be utilized only to the extent that a sufficient quantity remains preserved for future generations to use productively. This policy, as DesJardins highlights, aligns with utilitarian principles by promoting the overall good.

Another dimension of the environmental ethics discourse centers on the deontological consideration of the rights of future generations. It raises the poignant question of how individuals who do not yet exist and whose existence is not guaranteed can possess rights. Within the framework of ethical reasoning, the principle of equality dictates that all individuals, even hypothetical ones, should be accorded rights. DesJardins seeks to personalize the responsibility owed to future generations by encouraging us to view them as individual beings. He employs the powerful example of one's future great-grandchildren to evoke empathy, tapping into the innate human tendency to prioritize the well-being of family. It is only natural to assert that one values the lives of their descendants as highly as their own and believes that their lineage deserves equal treatment, including the opportunity for good health and living conditions. In his exposition, DesJardins cites philosopher Brian Barry's perspective, which posits that ensuring equal opportunities for future generations necessitates an equitable allocation of resources or, failing that, compensation. Barry's deontological theory of equal opportunity harmonizes with Williams' utilitarian concept of maximizing overall societal welfare. The shared emphasis on resource conservation and the equitable distribution of benefits underscores the ethical imperative of safeguarding the interests of future generations.

Historical Perspective

In addition to addressing the complexities of our responsibility to future generations, a comprehensive understanding of this ethical obligation necessitates a historical examination of humanity's interaction with the natural environment. This historical perspective underscores the pragmatic approach required to pave the path toward a sustainable future. As the age-old adage reminds us, those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Through a historical lens, it becomes evident that we cannot place unwavering reliance on the mechanisms of capitalist institutions operating within the free market, as they often prioritize production and consumption at the expense of ecological well-being.

The essay "Carbon Metabolism: Global Capitalism, Climate Change, and the Biospheric Rift," penned by Brett Clark and Richard York, meticulously delineates the repercussions of a consumption-driven market on what is referred to as society's "metabolism." This term encapsulates the intricate relationship between humanity and the natural world. Clark and York's analysis underscores a sobering reality: expecting mere refinements within the confines of the growth-driven capitalist system to heal the metabolic rift is a misguided endeavor. A transcendence of the existing capitalist paradigm, rooted in the relentless pursuit of capital accumulation, becomes imperative if we are to attain ecological sustainability. It becomes patently clear that achieving sustainability requires more than just the implementation of environmental policies aimed at resource preservation and reduction of environmental impact; it demands a fundamental shift in our perspective that encompasses a profound reverence for the intrinsic value of the environment.

Joseph DesJardins also draws from Mark Sagoff's viewpoint, emphasizing the need for a "value-based approach" that places paramount importance on spiritual, aesthetic, and ethical values rather than viewing the environment solely as a resource for capital exploitation. When we conceive of the Earth's biosphere as a shared inheritance, we move beyond the narrow focus on human interests alone. This perspective resonates with Aldo Leopold's environmental ethics, as expounded in his essay "The Land Ethic." Leopold contends that ethics has undergone a three-part evolution. Initially, it dealt with the relationships between individuals; subsequently, it explored the interactions of individuals within society. DesJardins adeptly integrates these two ethical paradigms into his anthropocentric vision of environmental sustainability, where our responsibility to future generations assumes a central role. According to Leopold, the third stage of ethical development should encompass humanity's relationship with the ecosystem itself. Therefore, ethical ideologies should accentuate our duty toward the environment, intrinsic ecological values, and the willingness to make sacrifices—not solely driven by economic interests, be they of the present or the future.

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In conclusion, DesJardins' anthropogenic perspective on environmental ethics introduces theoretical challenges to both utilitarian and deontological approaches in the context of resource conservation. The imperative is clear: we must strive to preserve the resources at our disposal and compensate for those we cannot. As DesJardins aptly asserts, our responsibility to future generations necessitates a concerted effort to reduce our environmental footprint while safeguarding vital resources. With unchecked population growth, it becomes our moral duty to concentrate on curbing consumption and fostering technological progress. Inescapably, our current society operates within a capitalist framework that thrives on ever-increasing production and consumption. However, the reduction of consumption cannot be achieved solely through the enactment of environmental policies designed to counter capitalism's adverse effects on the ecosystem. It is incumbent upon us, as stewards of the Earth and our obligation to future generations, to cultivate a profound reverence for the environment to inspire conservation and diminish excessive consumption. As Sagoff and Leopold cogently argue, we must refrain from viewing the environment merely as a source of capital; instead, we must cherish it as an essential aesthetic pillar of our society. Only through such a transformative shift in perspective can we hope to reduce consumption and mitigate our ecological impact, truly fulfilling our responsibility to future generations.


  1. DesJardins, J. R. (2017). Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy. Wadsworth Publishing.
  2. Clark, B., & York, R. (2016). Carbon Metabolism: Global Capitalism, Climate Change, and the Biospheric Rift. Theory and Society, 45(4), 365-393.
  3. Williams, M. (1981). Sustainability: What is it? Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 4(4), 215-240.
  4. Sagoff, M. (1988). The Economy of the Earth: Philosophy, Law, and the Environment. Cambridge University Press.
  5. Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There. Oxford University Press.
  6. Barry, B. (1999). Sustainability and Intergenerational Justice. In J. Foster (Ed.), Valuing Nature? Economics, Ethics and Environment (pp. 207-223). Routledge.
  7. O’Neill, J. (1992). The Varieties of Intrinsic Value. The Monist, 75(2), 119-137.
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Joseph DesJardins’ Perspective on the Rapid Growth of Population and Our Responsibilities to Future Ancestors. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
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