Mark Bittman quotes the philosopher Peter Singer on why it is such a challenge to get people to care about global warming: “People give less weight to the future, but that’s a brain bug. We should have equal concern for everyone wherever and whenever they live.”
That's the idea behing the "seventh generation" idea of sustainability, which is that we should think about how our actions will affect the next seven generations. Bittman imagines the shift in our politics that would be needed to govern with such long-term thinking:
Americans and Western Europeans have been the primary beneficiaries of the lifestyle that accelerated climate change, and, of course are among the primary emitters of greenhouse gases. For the first 200-plus years of the fossil fuel age, we could claim ignorance of its lasting harm; we cannot do that now.
With knowledge comes responsibility, and with that responsibility must come action. As the earth’s stewards, our individual changes are important, but this is a bigger deal than replacing light bulbs or riding a bike. Let’s make working to turn emissions around a litmus test for every politician who asks for our vote.
Imagine a democracy across space, time and class, where legislative bodies represented not only those living in the world’s low-lying areas but their great-grandchildren — and ours. Or imagine that our elected representatives were proxies for those people. Imagine those representatives determining our current energy policy. Is there any doubt that things would change more rapidly?