Thursday, December 17, 2009

Some want to make the Climate Crisis a generational fight (debated in the post below). Photo: Al Gore, one of the 60s generation at the forefront.

The Wrong Enemy

The future has lots of enemies--greedy insurers, egomaniacal Senators, Climate Crisis deniers, petrified (in both senses) why on Earth would a someone want to invent a new one?

In this Worldchanging post, Alex Steffan declares that the war for the future is generational, young against old, apparently because of polls (which he doesn't bother citing) that say the older demographic believes in the Climate Crisis less than do the younger. The key graph:

"And this is what most older observers seem to refuse to understand: The world looks dramatically different if the year 2050 is one you’re likely to be alive to see. To younger people, Copenhagen isn’t some do-gooder meeting; it’s the first major battle in a war for the future. Their future."

It's not unusual for a younger generation to anoint itself the hope of the world, in opposition to the old people who have so far screwed things up. We did it in the 60s. Maybe with more justification, maybe with less. But it's like a lot of broad-brush categorical statements: even if it is in some sense true (and it is also always in some sense false) it alienates your potential allies within the group (older, male, white, etc.) you condemn.

Of course, scientists, writers, artists and even politicians in all of these categories are demonstrably in the forefront of the fight to address the Climate Crisis and to build a sustainable future. Some of them are from the 60s generation, like Al Gore, and others are even older, like the foremost climate scientists in England and the U.S. (James Hansen for one. James Lovelock, more radically that just about anyone, is in his nineties.) Steffan might be forgiven for youthful exuberance for ignoring this, except that later in his post he writes "if I were ten years younger" he would join the young "on the barricades."

Yes, in a statistical sense, there is a divide--older voters in the U.S. not only tend to be behind the curve on global heating, but on race, gender and social issues as well. Younger U.S. voters also tend to be more diverse racially and in other ways. But those are percentages, not numbers of people. And even the numbers aren't altogether relevant. There are millions on one side, and millions on the other.

What Steffans basically contends is at the heart of the difference--the dividing line that makes the older the enemy--is their relation to the future. The young will live to see it, and the old will not. Therefore, the young care more about the future.

There is some visceral truth to this idea. But only to a degree, and not enough to condemn the imaginations and commitments of older people. Older people are often parents and grandparents. Many older people do care about the future, partly because they are older. Past a certain age, older people are often less interested in the present than in the past and the future. They care about legacy, and about the planet that has borne their lives, and about their descendants, their grandchildren. There's hardly anything they care about more.

But speaking for my generation, many of us have made a lifetime commitment of caring about the future. And we have the scars to prove it. We were always a minority, even within our own generation. Just as you probably are within yours.

I doubt that every young person is worried about 2050. It takes imagination as well as motivation to think about the future, in any sense beyond the very narrow, and very short.

So my advice to Steffans and the others looking for enemies: you've got enough real ones, you don't need to invent--or create--new ones. The old are easy to scapegoat--the older, the easier. Yes, the biggest human barriers to change are usually older than 30. You have to be to be elected to the Senate, etc. Most of them are also right-handed. But then, maybe you are, too.

I echo Steffans' concern that the young will become discouraged and disheartened. Maybe older veterans of other fights can help with that.