The Quest for
“The fate of mankind, ” Teilhard de Chardin once said, “depends upon the emergence of a new faith in the future. ” 1 Environmentalists might well agree. Yet their orientation is less that of the religious faithful than that of the morally forward-looking. What is intrinsic to environmentalism is a sense of obligation to those who will come after us.
This “future focus” constitutes the most widespread and enduring feature of contemporary environmentalism. 2 It is concisely represented by a popular environmental slogan: “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children. ” 3 A sense of obligation to progeny grounds environmental ethics. Environmental organizations make this commitment explicit. “If there is anything that has distinguished the environmental movement during the past 100 years, ” Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope wrote, “it has been our insistence that we not plan for a one-generation society, that the future matters. ” 4 The founding of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), representatives observe, was impelled by the commitment not to “steal the future from our children and our children's children—the clean air and water they will need, the natural resource that should sustain their economy and their jobs, and their chance to experience wilderness and wild creatures and to find spiritual renewal in nature. ” 5 John Sawhill, president of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) identifies the central task of his organization as “ensuring that our children will inherit a rich and diverse