SO THAT POSTERITY MAY KNOW
The challenge of informing future generations about the dangers of radioactive waste created in the twentieth century is addressed by a dozen authors in the book Warnings to the Far Future: Nuclear Waste As Communication Problem (Warnungen an die ferne Zukunft: Atommull als Kommuniktionsproblem).
Several of the writers expressed such pessimism about the task that they advocated total secrecy or letting society forget the locations, and thought it probable that communications would not be taken literally.
Yet the perspective of many of the articles, published in German, edited by Roland Posner, and drawn from the field of semiotics, shows considerable convergence with the Guardianship Ethic. [See page 10] The following points are made:
- Democratically legitimized long-term institutions must be established to take responsibility for maintaining information about nuclear waste over the millennia. This may require radical transformation of the procedures of communication.
- A task force of "message protectors" should be responsible for reformulating the communication in new languages as needed, and disseminating the information.
- Access to full information will counteract tendencies to under-play or over-state the real risks.
- In the continued absence of reliable technical solutions for preventing natural interference, production of nuclear waste must be discontinued.
In an analysis of current communication about nuclear waste, Susanne Hauser concludes that those responsible have attempted to evade long-term responsibility for nuclear waste, and that this evasion has resulted in radioactive pollution of the Earth.
Unfortunately, since the potential victims of radioactive waste in future generations play no economic role today, there is little economic incentive to convey effective warnings to them.
A Legislative Body for Our Descendants
Posner concludes that we are collectively required to become aware of future generations. Relevant information for them must be systematically collected for transmission. This task goes beyond all perspectives of recent environmental politics. Such provisions for the future, he contends, must be handled by a comprehensive new democratic institution.
In addition to the two legislative chambers of federated states, he advocates a third legislative body which officially represents the interests of our descendants. This "Chamber of Future Affairs" would be advised by:
- commissions for middle- and long-term prognoses, and
- an ethics commission.
It would be supported by :
- an office of future-research;
- a data office to collect and make the relevant information accessible to everyone;
- an executive office to supervise middle- and long-term danger areas, to keep threatened animals away and to warn intelligent beings.
Posner explores the structure such an institution must have in order to efficiently co-operate with the existing system of democratic institutions and to continue functioning for millennia.
Warnings to the Far Future (Warnungen an die ferne Zukunft: Atommull als Kommuniktionsproblem), edited by Roland Posner, Raben Streifzuge Verlag 1990. Based on the English Summary pp. 305-314.