“All persons ought to consider and, on the whole, approve the foreseeable consequences of each of their choices. Stated otherwise: Choose with a view to the long run, not merely the present act” (Edgar S. Brightman, Moral Laws, New York: Abingdon Press, 1933, p. 142).
Long-term thinking concerning consequences is a critical component to ecologically responsible policy and behavior. Short-term satisfaction of our desires often leads to detrimental long-term consequences for the ecological community. Given our advances in science and technology and our increased ability to manipulate and affect the environment on a grand scale, it is particularly important to guide our science and technology with wisdom that incorporates a view of the long-term consequences of our action. Such a view is expressed in the Iroquois wisdom of thinking about the effect of our actions on seven generations into the future.
Our current human caused ecological crisis is the result of a litany of short-term gratifications trumping long-term ecological sustainability. To satisfy our need for paper and wood, we have decimated the old growth forest ecosystems of the world, when thought for long-term consequences could have led to sustainable forestry, paper recycling, and the use of alternative and more efficient sources of making paper. To gratify our desires for cheap and convenient transportation, we have overused non-renewable energy sources and polluted our air with gases that have long-term consequences on the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. To satisfy our needs for energy to power our homes and other buildings, we have often taken the easy short-term path of continuing to use fossil fuels rather than making the long-term investment in more renewable and sustainable energy sources. To satisfy the nutritional needs of an ever-growing population, we have become increasingly dependent on pesticides, some causing widespread problems. Presently, we are genetically altering many of our crops and livestock to more effectively meet the demand for food, but much care is needed to address the long-term consequences of such activity. To satisfy our appetite for more meat in our diet, we have committed ourselves to food production practices that require more energy and more water and that are not conducive to long-term sustainability. Our moral responsibility to look at long-term consequences challenges us to temper our desires for immediate or short-term satisfaction with a consideration for long-term ecological sustainability. May we take the moral responsibility to think seven generations into the future and beyond.