Here are some of the responses I received after a recent lengthy screed on our collective bystanding as the earth warms to dangerous levels and we seem to be leaving impossible challenges to our innocent grandchildren.
The Thousand-Year Footprint
I’m feeling very emotional after reading your blog this morning. I’ve been feeling really weighed down by and responsible for the climate crisis — as I should.
Your blog contains so many great insights, but when I read them, a synapse connection always happens to the bigger picture. I just witnessed that happen for you.
[In a prior post you quoted your wife as saying] “we have no right to leave our psychological footprint on another human being” — a fantastic statement — but what about leaving our environmental footprint on future generations for thousands of years to come?
I loved your post about our addiction to bacon (a personal indulgence). Is traveling and flying our “environmental bacon”? I feel like I need to start a support group for travel addiction. "Hi, my name is… and I love to travel…”
You nail how we fail to envision our “future selves” and act now to have a healthy outcome down the road. And we do exactly the same thing with the planet. We know what we need to do now, and we passively choose not to.
I would like to share … this amazing paper on “Leading the public into emergency mode.”
Margaret Klein Salamon shows us how we have already executed the kind of massive redirection of values, resources and energy before — during the Second World War. We have a template of what to do, and we have the capacity for collective action as a human community.
At 56, I’m thinking about how I’m called to be an "elder” for the planet and the younger generations in this time of crisis. I’m not sure it includes “retirement.”
I think you are doing important work to explore and redefine what retirement can be.
And then in a subsequent email:
For those of us in the top global 1%, and that’s us and nearly everybody in our social networks, the impact of our actions is far from “small.” It’s about starting to act based on real facts. (Your recycling debunking is part of it).
Reducing, or eliminating, flying is actually huge. Twenty per cent of us produce 70% of all global emissions and flying is a major part of that.
I found this [passage in] Democracy Now in an interview with Greta Thunberg and Kevin Anderson:
”… if that 10 percent of high emitters reduce their carbon footprint, their individual carbon footprint, to the level of the average European citizen, that would be equivalent of a one-third cut in global emissions, even if the other 90 percent did nothing.“
Not So Fast
With all respect, I think you’ve got some of this wrong. For all the whimpering about life, I really don’t think millennials (for example) have it any worse than the last five or more generations. Imagine the lives of our great-grandparents when THEY were kids looking forward to the prospect of their futures. War. Pestilence. Lack of schooling. Few jobs other than hard labor. Poorly developed or inaccessible medicines. And imagine our grandparents in the same phase of life. More war. The agricultural revolution wreaking havoc on the environment. And not much better with respect to employment, school, or medicine. Then think of our own parents. My grandfather died when my dad was 10 from gangrene due to a minor workplace accident. Then my dad’s mom died a year later. Second World War was looming on the horizon. The industrial revolution was killing workers left and right, and taking advantage of them in every way. My dad worked 60 hours a week in a paper mill… And then OUR generation. Facing the scary notion of the technological revolution putting us out of a job, and the angst of the various global wars ongoing (like Vietnam). Air raid drills in schools when I was 10. The future didn’t look so hot then either in some ways. Millennials have their challenges like we all did, but I honestly don’t think the world is any worse for them than any other generation in recent memory. If millennials have a problem, it’s that we have raised them (in the developed world, anyway) to be unrealistic about how fast their jobs and salaries ought to progress. And not to recognize how much work life can be!! So they often feel disillusioned, but not because things are worse, but because, in my opinion — and it won’t fly well with them — they have unreasonable expectations.
And I think we won’t stop climate change at this point, so we will need to learn to adapt and tame what we do, to allow the planet to catch up.
And grocery stores, hospital food, and Amazon all DO need a boot in the pants, but they are minor, First World and temporary problems to me, that will fix themselves in time. I knew you were mostly joking about these things to lighten up the end of your post!
Of course, we all need to stay constantly vigilant about all that, but I certainly don’t see the future in a doomsday scenario.
The pendulum swings back and forth, and it happens to be close to maximum amplitude to the RIGHT I think these days!
Take heart. Entropy will pull it back!
Bracing for the Blows
I personally brace against the full knowledge of climate change — and its predecessors, human greed, obsessive materialism and a desperate lack of spiritual belonging — because to not do so has left me so hobbled with grief and I’ve had my fill. The helplessness in the face of it all is bolstered by vague thoughts like “they have all the power,” “money always wins,” and “those in charge run the show.” The emotional labor of processing what is happening in the Amazon, or thinking about where to buy salad greens that are not encased in locked plastic boxes, sometimes feels like too much to process. But you have inspired me here and I accept — with gratitude — your challenge.
The Climate Channel?
I was watching the weather report last night on the six o'clock news and I wondered when they will start a climate report on the news because a lot of the regular news is climate-change related. Just last night: Amazon burning, record high water in Lake Erie, more people with allergies because the growing season for weeds etc. has extended by four weeks, Greta’s arrival. Maybe we’ll eventually see a Climate Channel to complement the Weather Channel.
Leading by Example
Acting helps. Greta’s stand made me reevaluate. I’m going all in, doing as much as I can personally (waiting for delivery of an electric vehicle that will cut our emissions in half, eating much less meat)… It’s as much for my conscience as for the planet. I am under no illusions that I alone can make a difference. Or that my efforts matter as much as a droplet in an Amazon fire when compared to the gargantuan tar sands and the actions of evil tyrants. But I find that when I am active, I sleep better, and "lead by example.”
We can all only do what we can do. But perhaps our definition of what we can do — especially with all the extra time and freedom you talk about in retirement — can expand and embrace change, political and personal change.
And nothing bugs me more than seeing vacation photos of far-flung places: evidence of seeing the planet before it burns and personal contributions to its incineration…
This is a wonderful article. I am being encouraged to attend an all-candidates meeting in my riding where questions will be asked about climate change. After reading this article I plan to attend.
Never Too Late
Soon I’ll be 70 years old. You got me! I have to make some changes and talk to my neighbors and politicians… I cannot believe how people are still using plastic water bottles.
From one of my fellow book club members:
It sounds like you are as pissed as I am about our hopeless, leaderless, generation.
Yes we should have a climate-change book club. Let’s try to make it happen. It’s about time.