Climate Change: Leveraging Legacy

33 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2014

See all articles by Michael P. Vandenbergh

Michael P. Vandenbergh

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Kaitlin Toner

Vanderbilt University - Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment

Date Written: February 13, 2014


Drawing on the emerging private governance literature and the results of an empirical study, this Article explores whether legacy concerns can be harnessed to address climate change. The socio-temporal trap is an important barrier to climate change mitigation: the costs of reducing carbon emissions will be incurred by this generation, but most of the benefits will accrue to future generations. Research suggests that social influences — including concerns about legacy — can induce individuals to overcome collective action problems, but individuals know that future generations will not have information about who acted today in ways meriting social sanctions or rewards. Insufficient information may undermine three aspects of legacy-driven behavior: the concern about how one’s actions today will be viewed by future generations, the concern about how these actions will affect the social status of progeny, and the alignment of these actions with moral beliefs regarding the treatment of future generations. Making legacy-related information public today also may influence social sanctions and rewards from contemporaries. The Article examines the nature of legacy concerns, their effects on behavior, and the feasibility of a private legacy registry designed to record individuals’ responses to climate change in ways that will not only be disclosed today, but also will be easily accessible for many generations.

Keywords: private governance, legacy, climate change, private ordering, social norms, psychology, environmental law

Suggested Citation

Vandenbergh, Michael P. and Toner, Kaitlin, Climate Change: Leveraging Legacy (February 13, 2014). Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 14-7, Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 14-5, Available at SSRN: or

Michael P. Vandenbergh (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

Kaitlin Toner

Vanderbilt University - Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment ( email )

2301 Vanderbilt Place
Nashville, TN 37240
United States

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