Protecting Future Generations: A Global Survey of Legal Academics

52 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2021 Last revised: 22 Feb 2022

See all articles by Eric Martínez

Eric Martínez

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Christoph Winter

Harvard University; Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México; Legal Priorities Project

Date Written: August 20, 2021

Abstract

The laws and policies of today may have historically unique consequences for future generations, yet their interests are rarely represented in current legal systems. The climate crisis has shed light on the importance of taking into consideration the interests of future generations, while the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we are not sufficiently prepared for some of the most severe risks of the next century. What we do to address these and other risks, such as from advanced artificial intelligence and synthetic biology, could drastically affect the future. However, little has been done to identify how and to what degree the law can and ought to protect future generations. To respond to these timely questions of existential importance, we sought the expertise of legal academia through a global survey of over 500 law professors (n=516).

This Article elaborates on the experimental results and implications for legal philosophy, doctrine, and policy. Our results strongly suggest that law professors across the English-speaking world widely consider the protection of future generations to be an issue of utmost importance that can be addressed through legal intervention. Strikingly, we find that law professors desire more than three times the perceived current protection for humans living in the far future (100+ years from now), roughly equal to the perceived level of current protection for present generations. We also found that the gap between the average desired and perceived current level of protection was higher for humans living in the far future than for any other group surveyed on, which included non-human animals and humans outside the jurisdiction. Furthermore, the vast majority of law professors (72%) responded that legal mechanisms are among the most predictable, feasible mechanisms through which to influence the long-term future, with environmental and constitutional law particularly promising. Curiously, these findings hold true independent of demographic factors such as age, gender, political affiliation, and legal training. Taken together, the results support the jurisprudential claim that law and legal institutions can and ought to protect those in the far future—the view of legal longtermism.

Further, responses indicated that law professors believe there is a plausible legal basis for granting standing to future generations in at least some cases. Other topics surveyed included which specific constitutional mechanisms were perceived as more able to protect future generations. Insofar as law professors can be considered experts on these topics, our results suggest various ways in which the legal system can and should protect future generations.

Keywords: global survey, future generations, longtermism, climate change, artificial intelligence, biosecurity

JEL Classification: K10, K33

Suggested Citation

Martínez, Eric and Winter, Christoph, Protecting Future Generations: A Global Survey of Legal Academics (August 20, 2021). Legal Priorities Project Working Paper Series No. 1, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3931304 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3931304

Eric Martínez (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Christoph Winter

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.christophwinter.net/

Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México ( email )

Río Hondo 1
Mexico City, D.F. 01000, Federal District 01080
Mexico

Legal Priorities Project ( email )

1427 Cambridge St
#5
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

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