It often occurs to me that each of us has intense conflicts of interest between our present self and our future
selves. My present self wants to over-eat, fail to exercise, ignore needed house repairs, and I would generally prefer to prepare less rather than more for anything I do. None of these things would be good for my future self. My present urges seem much more important than my future concerns, so it takes focused effort to keep my priorities straight. Today I found a cute cartoon to illustrate this recurring internal conflict that we all experience.
On a large scale, of course, society tends to live in the present, exhausting the earth’s resources, rather than living sustainably, which can would usually require extra effort and planning. Thus, as a country we are collectively engaged in a massive conflict of interest pitting our present selves against our future selves. 40% of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded, much of the damage done by human activities. The story of Lake Mead presents a stunning visual–its water level has fallen 115 feet since the year 2000, leaving a huge “bathtub ring.” (the lake is expected to have a good year, bringing back 32 of those feet, but the trend is ominous).
To the extent that we choose to leave our future selves out of the equation, we are leaving a crappier planet to the next generations, which is the antithesis of “family values.” This tendency of many conservatives to scoff at many of the efforts of those who promote sustainable living consequently puzzles me, in light of their strong “family values” rhetoric. Won’t their future selves be wishing that they had left a healthier planet to their children and grandchildren? This inconsistency stems from this internal conflict of interest. Perhaps a realization that this conflict exists, and that present urges seem much more important, out of proportion to future concerns, is the first step to getting one’s sustainable living priorities in order.