Announcing the winners: Intergenerational Justice Prize 2022

The dice are cast, and the distribution of the prize money of €10,000 has been decided. The jury consulted and awarded five scientific papers by young researchers. In this blog, Anne Bierwirth from the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations sets out and summarises the Intergenerational Justice Prize 2022.

What is the Intergenerational Justice Prize?

The Intergenerational Justice Prize is jointly awarded by the Intergenerational Foundation (IF) and the Stuttgart-based Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations (FRFG) and is endowed with a total of 10,000 euros. The prize money is provided by the Germany-based Foundation Appel Tree, which initiated the prize.

The theme of this year’s prize was “Existential and unknown risks for future generations”. Whether man-made climate change, nuclear armament, or artificial intelligence – all these factors pose an existential risk to humanity, because they could eradicate us as a species or rob us of our potential to evolve. How to deal with these (and other) risks in the present and for the future is a central question for mankind.

There was unanimity on this among the many young scientists who participated in the Intergenerational Justice Prize 2022. The submitted research papers and articles were then evaluated by the six-member jury in a double-blind review procedure. Short versions and “explanatory videos” of the winning works, prepared by the authors themselves, can now be found on the social media channels of the FRFG and IF. Take a look and learn how existential and unknown risks threaten us now and – if we don’t take action – in the future!

Longtermism and the far future

The paper awarded with the first prize Does Longtermism Depend on Questionable Forms of Aggregation?, written by Marina Moreno, deals with “longtermism” as an ethical concept. Longtermism states that the focus of our actions should be on the long-term future, since the number of people living in the future far exceeds those living at present, and the moral weight of all future individuals aggregates.

Consequently, everything must already be focused on preventing existential risks for the sake of the future. Moreno, on the other hand, cites the non-aggregative perspective, which criticises longtermism and instead places a focus on solving short to medium-term problems. The difference in perspectives that Moreno points out in her work thus lies in the weighting of the present and the future in our actions.

This balancing and the resulting obligations are also central to the work that was bestowed the second prize, How to Cope with Nightmares: Human rights and existential risks for future generations by Christoph Herrler. He argues that from an ethical point of view it is necessary to prevent circumstances that endanger human existence. Certain duties can therefore be derived from human rights. Future generations should be given more consideration and the current discrimination based on the time of birth should be stopped. Here, the work explicitly refers to a base principle of intergenerational justice.

Existential threats

The paper awarded with the third prize, written by Johannes Kattan and titled Extinction risks and resilience: A perspective on current existential risks research with nuclear war as an exemplary threat analyses humanity’s resilience against existential risks. Various factors are mentioned here: different habitats and practices, technical mitigation, and the human capacity to adapt.

Kattan concludes that the extinction of the entire human race is unlikely but the occurrence of a catastrophe is certainly not. The author thus expresses a more optimistic outlook, without giving the all-clear, because action must be taken now against the risks. In particular, it is necessary to protect both the present and future generations.

A very concrete danger to humanity is highlighted in the article that was given the fourth prize. In their paper, The post-antibiotic era: an existential threat for humanity Dominik Koesling and Claudia Bozzaro show that we are facing a loss of functioning antibiotics. The paper outlines how the widespread use of antibiotics, beyond their intended application, is causing bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. This means that infections might no longer be treatable.

To prevent further resistances from developing, investment into the research for new drugs and alternative treatment options is needed, as the authors explain. This is the only way to guarantee that antibiotic therapy will remain effective.

Creating solutions to unknown risks

The paper awarded with the fifth prize, written by Augustine Ugar Akah, and titled Existential and Unknown Risks for Future Generations: Trends and analysis, also revolves around the effectiveness of solutions. The author presents the influence of existential and yet unknown risks on the development of current and future generations.

Akah identifies the common trend of risks as the lack of regulation of the internet, artificial intelligence, and the prevailing living-for-now-perspective. To mitigate these and unknown risks, Akah then proposes solutions in the form of monitoring systems, cross-sector risk calculation, and ethical training for experts.

Congratulations to our prize winners

An additional symbolic prize was given to the essay From a Hegemony of Risk to Pedagogies of Uncertainty: An Anthropological Proposition by Hannah Wadle and Aleksandra Lis-Plesińska. The essay, written from a personal perspective, calls for the exposure of inequalities in risk analysis.

In short, the works awarded with the Intergenerational Justice Prize 2022 show how complex – especially man-made – existential threats and risks are, how they present themselves, how they can be predicted, and how they should be dealt with. The authors show: taking action to fight these threats cannot be postponed until tomorrow. Existential risks must be prevented.

The full papers will be published in the next two issues of the journal Intergenerational Justice Review (IGJR), jointly published by FRFG and IF.

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