Current human societies experience how rapid economic development, urbanization, and modernization worldwide come up with overexploitation of natural resources and environmental pollution. Natural resource depletion and environmental problems threaten the possibilities of future human generations in the earth, which might even cause the extension of humankind. Given such possibilities, sustainability becomes one of the major policy agendas in recent times.
In 2016, United Nations introduce sustainable development goals with a great emphasis on environmental quality and needs of the future generations. The concept of sustainable development comes from the Brundtland report which describes sustainability as development that ‘‘meets the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’’ Since sustainable development is a continuous process that needs longer time than only one generation, it requires cooperation among current and future generations. This means sustainability should be ensured in an intergenerational setting.
However, intergenerational sustainability or intergenerational provision of environmental and natural resources tend to be threatened due to its unidirectional nature, meaning that the amount of natural resources we harvest today or the amount of carbon we emit today affects the subsequent generations but not vice versa. We call this unidirectional interplay of sustainability between current and future generations the “intergenerational sustainability dilemma.”
The current developments of human societies have been materialized under democracy and capitalism. Capitalism is contemplated as the best social regime due to its ability to allocating private goods efficiently and generate more innovations through competition. However, capitalism and democracy might not be considered best devices to ensure intergenerational sustainability. In particular, the exclusion of future generations’ needs from the economic system and the idea of maximizing individual payoffs through competition endanger intergenerational sustainability and incur a cost for the subsequent generations.
Many of the past studies in the field of behavioral science demonstrate that cultural change affects human behaviors and decisions. In one of our journal article with PLoS One , we show that with ongoing modernization of competitive societies or maturation of capitalism in societies, the number of competitive or pro-self people increases due to the spread of the idea of competition for survival and success. Intergenerational sustainability is assumed to pose more danger with the rise in the number of pro-self people since intergenerational sustainability needs prosociality or cooperation from the current generation.
A group of researchers in School of Economics and Management, Kochi University of Technology, Japan publishes an article in Sustainability Science , in this study, they design and implements a laboratory experiment of intergenerational sustainability dilemma game (ISDG) to examine human decision for intergenerational sustainability. In this game, a lineup of groups play the game, each group chooses between maximizing own group’s payoff and imposing an irreversible cost to subsequent groups or maintain intergenerational sustainability. They show that without any control mechanism people endanger intergenerational sustainability, However, with the “imaginary future generation” treatment, which assigns a person in each group as the representative for the subsequent groups, can effectively enhance intergenerational sustainability.
Given that possibility that cultural change might affect human behavior and decision, in our recent article in Sustainability Science , we examine how the ongoing modernization of competitive societies, which we call “capitalism”, affects an individual decision for intergenerational sustainability. To examine this we demonstrate field experiments of ISDG and social value orientation (SVO) game in urban (capitalistic) and rural (less-capitalistic) areas of Bangladesh. The SVO game characterizes an individual as either competitive, individualistic or prosocial.
The results reveal that the possibility of choosing intergenerational sustainable option increase with the rise in the number of prosocial people and rural (less-capitalistic) dummy. We find more prosocial people in less-capitalistic areas than in capitalistic areas, and consequently, people in less-capitalistic areas choose more intergenerational sustainability than that of the people in capitalistic areas. Moreover, other area-specific effects such as the ways of transferring knowledge, wisdom values, cultures and wealth might cause a difference in taking the decision between self-maximization and maintaining intergenerational sustainability.
For instance, in less-capitalistic areas, the vertical transmission of these things from one generation to next generations through effective interaction between old and young generations is a common practice, unlike the capitalistic areas. The memory of this vertical transmission might induce people in a less-capitalistic area to choose more intergenerational sustainability relative to that of the people in capitalistic areas.
Our current study implies that with ongoing modernization of competitive societies, people lose their sociability such as prosociality, and the experience and memory of learning the cultures from the previous generations, which endangers some minimum requirements for the existence of human societies such as intergenerational sustainability. Therefore, some policy devices might be necessary to maintain intergenerational sustainability in highly capitalistic and modern societies.
- Shahrier, S., Kotani, K., and Kakinaka, M. (2016). Social value orientation and capitalism in societies. PLoS ONE, 11:e0165067.
- Kamijo Y, Komiya A, Mifune N, Saijo T (2017). Negotiating with the future: incorporating imaginary future generations into negotiations. Sustainability Science, 12:409–420
- Shahrier, S., Kotani, K., and Saijo, T. (2017). Intergenerational sustainability dilemma and the degree of capitalism in societies: A field experiment. Sustainability science, 12:957–967.
These findings are described in the article entitled Intergenerational sustainability dilemma and the degree of capitalism in societies: a field experiment, published in the journal Sustainability Science. This work was led by Koji Kotani, Shibly Shahrier and Tatsuyoshi Saijo from the Research Institute of Future Design, Kochi University of Technology.