Future generations first in environment trade off

2 September 2009

Warrnambool residents are an altruistic group who care about the wellbeing of future generations, a Deakin University researcher has found.

The PhD study, which has implications for environmental policy, showed that if given a choice residents would put the wellbeing of the next generation before their own.

Dr Helen Scarborough, a lecturer in Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law, asked members of the Warrnambool community to choose between three hypothetical environmental policies. Each policy would have potential impacts on the wellbeing of people aged 50, aged 25 and newly born.

“I wanted to establish how much or little residents were willing to trade off the wellbeing of one generation to ensure the wellbeing of another generation,” Dr Scarborough said

“I found that people are generally benevolent.”

Dr Scarborough said the study has implications for environmental projects where the impact of the costs and benefits are spread across several generations.

“The main finding was that if an environmental benefit is going to people two generations into the future then to reflect community preferences, the size of the benefit could be doubled in assessing alternative policy options.”

Dr Scarborough said the findings were sensitive to respondents’ income, age and parental status.

“The older the person is, the more concerned they are about future generations,” she said.

“Parents and those with higher incomes are also more concerned about future generations.

“Sustainable development implies a general rule about not impairing the capability of future generations to achieve the same level of wellbeing as the current generation.

“Yet to date we have not known to what extent this should be taken into account in environmental decision-making.

“Most environmental projects affect the distribution of resources, between generations.

“My research factors in equity decisions like these as well as efficiency and allows planners to factor the public’s preferences into their decision making.”

News facts
  • If given a choice on environmental policy, people put wellbeing of the next generation before their own
  • Research allows planners to factor the public’s preferences into their decision making
  • Implications for environmental projects where impacts spread across generations

Media contact

Helen Scarborough
Faculty of Business and Law
03 556 33547

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

15th July 2011