Wednesday, August 5, 2009

For posterity

I've written a fair amount about goals, but it's a good idea to occasionally go back and reexamine your goals. In thinking about it last night, I realized that there are basically three categories of goals: selfish goals that are for my own benefit, short-term goals that will benefit other people who I will interact with in my lifetime, and long-term goals that will benefit future generations.

As the Dalai Lama says, loving others is essential to our own survival, success and happiness, so my short-term goals for others are really a form of selfishness. Similarly, my long-term goals for future generations arise from a concern for my child and possible further descendants, and for others who will come.

There are real, practical benefits to getting people out of their cars and into trains and buses or onto bikes or their feet. But it would not be fair to future generations to do something for our own benefit that would hurt them. In fact, just as it ultimately helps us to make some sacrifices to benefit others around us, we can even gain by from making certain sacrifices for future generations.

One thing that I really don't care about in the future is whether there are human beings around. People are what they are, and if humans aren't around, then I'd hope that the dolphins or cockroaches will be having a good time. Death is a part of life, and so, ultimately, is extinction. The complexity of our civilization and all its achievements may be nice, but ultimately they're a means to an end, and that end is happiness.

That's not to say that I hate humans and want to see everyone die a horrible death. If people disappear from the face of the earth, my main concern is that it happen in a way that minimizes the suffering involved. Similarly, if we're going to be around for a long time, I would like us to enjoy that time as much as possible. And given the choice between a relatively quick, painless extinction for the human race or millenia of suffering, I would choose extinction.

One of the reasons I'm so concerned about air and water quality and efficient use of resources is that pollution and resource depletion can lead to suffering. In fact, it already has. Jared Diamond's Collapse is an essential read for anyone concerned with the future, because it examines ways in which pollution and resource depletion have already contributed to suffering, death and the decline of societies. But even today we can see its effects: asthma, cancer, unemployment, bankruptcy are all consequences of our failure to make responsible choices for transportation.

Large numbers of people agree that we can't sustain our current levels of pollution and resource consumption. If those people are right, then within the next hundred years we will be unable to produce enough energy to travel the way we do, and if we don't stop polluting the way we do millions will suffer. I'll talk about some of the practical implications of this for transportation policy in later posts.

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