HUMAN rights are much discussed, and greatly valued. We demand rights for ourselves, and for others. The idea of human rights underlies much of our political thinking. But who should have them? Do they apply only to people who are alive today? What about people who will be occupying our land in 50, 100, 1000 years’ time? Do they have rights?

Do they have rights to enjoy the animals and plants that have enhanced our lives? Do they have rights to healthy soil, rivers and groundwater, free of pollutants? Do they have rights to the use of the earth’s non-renewable resources? We can take care to recover and re-use metals such as copper, but what about petroleum? It is a valuable feedstock for industrial processes, but once it has been burnt it is gone for ever. Do future generations have any rights?

Some people talk of making sacrifices for the sake of the future, but is it a sacrifice to respect other people’s rights? Is it a sacrifice to respect our neighbours’ right to their gardens? How can it be a sacrifice to respect the rights of future generations? Don’t we all want to live in a way that respects other people’s rights?

Perhaps it is too late stop ourselves leaving behind a damaged planet. Perhaps the best we can do is to leave some financial compensation, a sovereign wealth fund, to help future generations to have a share in the prosperity that we have enjoyed. That can only happen if voters tell our politicians that we want to pay higher prices or taxes so that we can do this.

Henry Haslam is the author of The Earth and Us.