Intergenerational Equity in Natural Resource Extraction: Rhetoric or Rationality?

37 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2007

See all articles by Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal

Chapman University - School of Law

Date Written: December 2006


Whether we would rather live in a world that takes a more responsible ecological approach is a moot point. Whether we like it or not, the world we have is the world we inherited. Judging by the frenzy of growth in the world market, future generations might start to bear some heavy burdens due to our choices with regards to natural resources. The problem is that, while we may lament this state of affairs, it is perhaps not in our nature to change our course, at least in our private choices. The market works on economic principles, and these principles are based upon the innate and irrepressible human tendency to maximize his wealth. Only if mankind shared the norm that sustainability and intergenerational equity are of utmost value could the market effect a change in extraction behaviors.

This paper explores the ways in which norms inform our decision-making, and how they are still highly useful today, since we still suffer from an incomplete data set from which to make complex ecological decisions. Logging and mining (renewable and nonrenewable resources) both illustrate the inability of industry to take stock of intergenerational equity. Although the arguments in favor of taking up the cause of intergenerational equity are, at bottom, rhetorical, they seem to strike a chord with us. The problem that is left, then, is how to take what we believe to be right, and incorporate that value into the economics of natural resources extraction. That is, how can we rationalize the rhetoric?

Keywords: intergenerational equity, natural resources, mountaintop mining, extraction, ecological economics, property rights, preservation, conservation

Suggested Citation

Kowal, Tim, Intergenerational Equity in Natural Resource Extraction: Rhetoric or Rationality? (December 2006). Available at SSRN: or

Tim Kowal (Contact Author)

Chapman University - School of Law ( email )

Orange, CA 92866
United States

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