Humankind may run out of oil -- at least at a price we can afford. We may be damaging the ecosystem that supports us. Without technological breakthroughs that provide cheap energy and achieve a great downsizing of the human footprint, we are probably on an unsustainable path.
Collected personal actions created this path. When the anarchy of individual actions, collectively creates a bad destination for the whole group, democratic institutions create legislation to curb the destructive behaviors. It is the process that created driving rules and sewage treatment plants.
So why are democracies unable to address unsustainable behavior though legislation? Maybe it is because some of the people, who have to shoulder costs or receive benefits of that legislation, don’t get to vote. For example, the unborn accrue benefits and pay costs from today’s acts, but do not get to vote for or against them. If these unborn could vote then a democracy might be able to achieve sustainability.
Giving the unborn a vote is not impossible. You and I have never directly cast votes for any congressional or parliamentary legislation. A representative votes our wishes. If we give the unborn representation in the voting process,proportional to their numbers, sustainability might result.
The unborn would want to preserve forests, fisheries, and soils to ensure their existence when they arrive. The unborn would vote for the advancement of art and science because they would be the beneficiaries of this progress.
Because the unborn have greater numbers than the living population, their bias would control these governing bodies. Remember ---legislation is the organizational behavior that patches up the global system when collective individual behavior creates problems.
True if human representatives had to vote their unborn constituent’s wills, they would feel torn between their personal “me now,” bias and their constituency’s “me when I get there” bias. However if we make the representatives of the unborn, computers, programmed with the values and (sub) optimization functions of today's individuals, something few people today could dispute the validity or utility there of, the computers would have no trouble either, knowing which way to vote on any legislation, or introducing legislation to promote the wellbeing of the unborn.
Computers, so programmed, would vote against behavior that sacrifices the future benefits of the unborn for immediate gratification of the present generation. As time passes, and the unborn become the born, they will shift their votes by shifting to “me now” representatives. However, congressional control will remain in the hands of the yet unborn as represented by their computers. In this way, democratically arrived at government expenditures and laws will implement that ever so illusive sustainable civilization.
John Rawls anticipated a similar mechanism of social control when he proposed his theory of justice. John Rawls said you can design any social system you want (for example you can include social structures such as: lords and serfs, masters and slaves, labor unions and robber barons, private ownership and commons, tree huggers and lumberjacks, anarchies and autocracies) but after the you complete your design you have to accept a random assignment to one of the roles contained within the designed world. Because chance would determine if you played a master or slave role, John Rawls suggested you would be more careful about including any unpleasant social structure in the design.
Including the unborn in legislative decision making is a variation of, John Rawls “theory of justice, played out across time” instead of across social strata at a single point in time?”
That is, you get to make any decisions in congress you want but then you are randomly assigned to live in a time period that could range from the next day to 500 years latter.
Maybe if we want to make our world sustainable, we should give the unborn the right to vote.