IOS Longtermism Platform Member Spotlight: Rak Kim on how 'longtermism' can be woven into the fabric of our institutions

Rak Kim is Associate Professor of Global Environmental Governance at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University, working at the intersection of global environmental governance and international environmental law.

What does 'longtermism' mean to you?

"Longtermism, to me, is a fundamental concept that urges us to weave sustainability into the very fabric of our institutions.

When it comes to safeguarding the future of our planet, adopting a longterm perspective is imperative. The actions we take today will wield a profound and often irreversible impact on life on Earth. A prime example is the lasting effects of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere, which can persist for centuries to millennia. Similarly, the radioactivity of nuclear waste persists for tens of thousands of years. It’s essential that we make decisions now with our eyes firmly fixed on the distant horizon.

Yet our institutions have been oblivious to the passage of time, tied to the rigid rhythms of the industrial clock. Longtermism seeks to change this by imbuing institutions with a deeper understanding of time and aligning them with the natural temporal cadence of Earth's processes. This transformation requires institutions to accommodate diverse timescales and varying speeds of processes, and to acknowledge the ruptures in time itself.

Longtermism poses novel challenges that demand our attention. First, institutions must broaden their focus beyond the mere restoration of the past, and actively anticipate and shape futures. Second, institutions must develop the capacity to resonate with the geological timescales of Earth's systems, while remaining attuned to early warning signals and ready to act quickly and decisively. Third, institutions must cultivate resilience to endure over extended periods, yet maintain the flexibility to adapt or, if necessary, wither away.

In collaboration with colleagues, I’ve been trying to address these challenges and promote a new paradigm in international law and global governance — one we term 'earth system law and governance'. You can read some of my thoughts here."

Stay tuned for more spotlights on the core members of the Longtermism & Institutional Change platform and how this idea shapes their perspectives and research endeavours.