I recently listened to a discussion on the topic of longtermism, or the moral view that we need to factor in the welfare of future generations far more seriously than we do, including generations far, far into the future. No one should deny that the people of the future deserve some of our consideration, but most people soften that consideration with fluffy pillows of uncertainty. We take ourselves to have a rough idea of what the next generation will face, but after that everything gets cloudy fast, and most of us aren’t sure what exactly we should do for those possible people in the clouds, so we start dropping them from our moral calculations.
But if you insist on considering them, and treating them as real (but real elsewhen), their numbers and their interests get big fast. How many people might exist in the whole future of the universe? Millions of billions, maybe, if we go full-on Star Trek. If they each deserve only one millionth of our concern, that still ends up being a whopping amount of concern. Look at things that way, and really just about all of our moral thinking should be focused on the future generations of the universe. The Iroquois who asserted that we should “have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations” were severely understating the magnitude of the task before us.