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Entitlement: challenging our perceptions

How does our sense of entitlement contribute to perceived unfairness, and what are the implications for future generations?


Climate change is a global crisis that affects us all, but we know some nations are feeling its impact more than others.

In a previous article we delved into the topic of fairness in the context of climate change, which led me to stumble upon an unexpected yet intriguing theme: entitlement. How does our sense of entitlement contribute to both real and perceived unfairness?

Makes you think, right?

Entitlement can take various forms.

At one level, everyone should be entitled to a decent quality of life – which throws up the first problem. How do we define or articulate what this even means?

For most of us, a decent life means having enough to live on and provide for our family, good health, friends, and to live in a community where we feel comfortable and have access to those things that give us enjoyment – entertainment, culture, maybe material possessions.

But this is where things begin to get a bit more difficult.

What if those things that give us enjoyment and what we consider as essential for a decent life are actually at the expense of others’ wellbeing?

Travel is a perfect example. It has huge benefits to the individual– seeing the world, learning about new cultures, experiencing new things, and getting a bit of sun or conversely a bit of snow. Maybe it’s taking that cruise to see the ice and wildlife of the Artic or Antarctica before it disappears? Many will feel an overseas holiday is an entitlement.

We work hard, the weather in the UK can be pretty rubbish, we want to experience the world. Surely we’re entitled to an overseas holiday every now and then?

But of course, overseas travel is not without consequences, particularly if we travel by air or cruise ship. Both are major contributors to climate change.

There’s a certain irony that by travelling on marine-grade diesel-powered cruise liners to visit the magnificence of the polar regions we’re pumping out the very greenhouse gas emissions that are destroying them.

Can either of these forms of transport be totally decarbonised? Theoretically it’s possible, but in a timescale necessary to keep global warming to within 1.5c or 2.0c?

Almost certainly not.

Entitlement can take many forms: legal or contractual, social and cultural, ownership, service or benefits, moral or ethical (human rights) or for some individuals, even psychological.

But is there such a thing as temporal entitlement, whereby we prioritise our own interests over those of future generations and intergenerational equity?

Temporal entitlement may be seen in practices that deplete finite natural resources – such as fossil fuels or freshwater – without considering the long-term impacts on future generations.

It may also be evident in actions that contribute to environmental degradation – such as deforestation, pollution, or habitat destruction – without regard for the consequences future generations may face as a result.

In the context of temporal entitlement, the questions become:

  • What are the implications for what we do and how we live our lives now?
  • How does this challenge our own perceptions of what we're entitled to?
  • What does this mean for our businesses and the way we do business?
  • When working with clients I often ask “what do you want to be remembered for, and what is your legacy?”

If I was to ask you this now, would your answer be at odds with your entitlement?

I know, this is a big question!

It's not straightforward and, as we lead our organisations there are many balls to juggle, and other peoples' entitlements to meet.

Let's chat about how we can make a positive impact and create a sustainable future for all.


Image © 2018 The Pullen Consulting Group LLC

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