Our obligations to future generations

June 04, 2019
Elizabeth Finneron-Burns, Assistant Professor, Department of Political ScienceElizabeth Finneron-Burns is joining the Department of Political Science as an Assistant Professor.

Finneron-Burns has a PhD from Oxford University, and researches obligations to future generations, and how we make decisions related to these concerns.

“It's obvious that many of the policy decisions we make will affect the quality of life future people will enjoy. Take climate change for example. If we fail to mitigate, the people who will live in the future will suffer tremendously,” said Finneron-Burns. “On the other hand, if we take the appropriate steps to stop/slow warming, people in future will probably live very good lives.”

Finneron-Burns takes these considerations a step further, and looks at how our responses to concerns may impact how many people, and who, may even exist in the future.

“Taking climate change as an example again, the lifestyle changes we make in order to mitigate (e.g. driving less, travelling less, being vegetarian) will likely affect who we meet as potential partners, when we choose to have children, and how many children we choose to have,” said Finneron-Burns. “Some people who would have existed if we didn't mitigate climate change will never exist if we do mitigate. My research looks at how the fact that our decisions affect not only how good a life future people have but also their very existence and numbers changes what our duties to them are.”

While considering the impacts on future generations, Finneron-Burns is also interested in the question of human extinction, which she examined in a journal article, "What's Wrong with Human Extinction?" published in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy. In the article, Finneron-Burns examines the moral and contractual obligations people have to prevent human extinction.

In coming to Western, Finneron-Burns returns to Ontario, where she completed her undergraduate degree, and where she served for several years as a policy advisor for the government of Ontario.

"I'm very excited! I'm looking forward to working with some of Canada's best students and political scientists,” said Finneron-Burns, on coming to Western. “Though as a Queen's grad, I will probably struggle with my loyalties at football games!”