Fall 2014 (28.3) Essay

A Call for a Global Constitutional Convention Focused on Future Generations

This essay argues for a distinctive approach to the climate problem, understood as one manifestation of a wider ethical challenge. In the first part, I provide a brief analysis of where we stand, and make three basic claims. First, the standard analysis of climate change as a tragedy of the commons (or prisoner’s dilemma) is a mistake. Second, this misdiagnosis is dangerous, since it obscures the deeper, yet underappreciated challenges of the tyranny of the contemporary and the wider perfect moral storm. Third, though they have several roots, these challenges are driven primarily by institutional failure and especially the neglect of intergenerational concern.

In the second part, I make a specific proposal about how to proceed. I argue that the current generation should take responsibility for addressing the institutional gap, and that a natural first step would be for morally serious actors to initiate a call for a global constitutional convention focused on concern for future generations. To push forward the discussion, I then advance a number of guidelines concerning the characteristics, aims, composition and scope of the convention. Taken together, these guidelines begin to suggest a vision of how a global constitutional convention might be organized. As such, they are very much open to debate. What is less open to debate is the need to have that discussion.

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