What has the Older Generation ever done for the environment? A polemic view by one such Oldie.

Opel Rekord

What kind of emotions does a headline like the one above trigger? Does it depend on the age of the reader? Should we start by saying that any animosities between generations serve no purpose other than to divide groups that need to share their energies and knowledge in order to literally save the basis of continued civilized human existence?

We know the facts – the number of human beings has doubled in the last 50 years and the use of fossil fuels and raw materials has dramatically increased – with a marked difference between privileged and less privileged areas. Someone living through this period in, say, Western Europe would have had a much higher chance of experiencing a life of relative prosperity and security compared to someone living in an area of conflict, hardship, and ecological degradation.

Anne Lund, GFDL <http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html>, via Wikimedia Commons

But with ‘our’ generation coming out of a massive paradigm shift in the late 1960s, awareness about the environment became a prominent factor. The first Earth Day was held in 1970, there was a strong anti-nuclear movement, strong resistance and struggles against war (on people and the planet), concerted action against forest-death caused by acid rain – resulting in some clean-up action of industrial processes; then there was a relatively quick resolution to the shocking discovery of the ozone hole over the Antarctic caused by the release of CFC gases – this resulted in the Montreal Protocol of 1987 signed by all states; Rio 92 was the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC which eventually led to the Kyoto Treaty and the Paris Treaty, all designed to  get all states to agree in lowering their anthropogenic effect on global climate and eco-systems. And with the main meetings happening once a year, COP26 indicates these discussions have been going on for nearly 30 years by now.

So, while our understanding of climate processes and global consequences have improved beyond recognition in those last 50 years, we still must face the valid question of – how successful have we been?

Today’s scientists have developed the tools but today’s beneficiaries of our current economic model and many of today’s politicians have been slow to implement the required changes. And these people are our age and of our generation. But they do not represent us, in our lifelong struggles for a better world.

Dear young generation – this is an issue you will have to resolve in your own age group. Not everyone your age will go on Friday climate strikes, not everyone will fight to ‘save the planet’, not everyone will study to develop further understanding of science and technology, not everyone will really care. Some of you will want to continue simply using the world’s resources to make money, sad as this sounds. And we should know from our own experience, sadly…

We are all in this together – there is only one planet, there is only one lifeboat – the best we can do at this stage is to combine our energies and knowledge, to work cooperatively to make a sustainable change to reality. We all know it is almost too late, so let all generations join in with their respective insights, ideas, and commitment.

(Erwin Schaefer, Green Party of England & Wales, December 2021)

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