Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend a hand…
— Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’
In my year-end column of 2021, I introduced the concept of Gen-R — today’s youth who will be tasked with R-eviving, R-epairing, and R-enewing the planet. I pointed out that young people form the largest portion of the planet’s population (33%) and they will reach voting age and begin to take over the workings of commerce and government in the near future. Unfortunately, they also will be confronted with the immense challenge of saving the planet from humanity, and humanity from itself.
To do so, they will have to foment what I called a “soft revolution,” changing the entire world’s economic and consumption patterns, accompanied by a phased reduction in population and the democratization of wealth. Nothing less will address the combined global threats of climate change and environmental devastation in the one to-two-decade horizon that remains before salvaging civilization, and much of the planet, becomes unachievable.
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I also argued that “it is virtually impossible for today’s adults, the people currently in power, to implement these changes: they are too invested materially and psychologically to make more than modest revisions [to the system].” Our continuing failure to take anything close to the necessary measures to address the climate crisis bears me out.
So, does that mean that anyone over, say, 25, is off the hook for environmental responsibility and taking climate action?
Hardly. Aside from the fact that such a moral capitulation is unacceptable, many of those who are currently in their 40s or 50s could still live through the worst, or close to the worst, of the environmental collapse — live through it or die from it.
But as adults put their past failures behind us (as we must), we need to assess where our efforts will be most productive in the coming struggle for positive change. Understanding that we have recently entered a two-decade period in which our fate will be decided — that’s a long campaign — we need to marshal our individual and collective resources to have greatest effect.
Essentially, I believe, our best investment is in today’s youth climate movements such as the global Strike for Climate (Greta Thunberg); Britain’s Extinction Rebellion and our own U.S. Sunrise Movement. As the battle warms up, it is today’s youth who have the energy, freedom from entanglements and investments in the status quo and ultimately the numbers to bring about change.
For example, while some older people are willing to “put their bodies on the line” and be arrested for civil disobedience during climate actions against fossil-fuel installations and government entities, most are not: they’ve got kids, mortgages, complex social commitments and assorted inhibitions. And because of those obligations, they often lack the fresh perspective. — and refreshing directness — that youth can bring to the bargaining table.
However, also because of those obligations, society’s adults have resources that young people typically lack: money, connections, a degree of influence. (They could also have wisdom to share — if and when they are asked to do so.) Today’s adults, and the youth they’ve spawned, could be a match made in heaven — or on earth — if the adults are willing to take the right approach.
What’s the right approach? They must relinquish a great deal of their control and trust young people to understand and articulate the problems, while supporting their goals and, so long as they remain nonviolent, their means of attaining those goals.
How can we go about this? Start by listening. Is Greta Thunberg’s assessment of the climate crisis correct? It’s far more accurate than most, in my opinion. Are the measures sought by the Sunrise Movement the way forward?
Let’s find out at our ecological house.
Philip S. Wenz writes about the environment and related topics.
Visit his blog at firebirdjournal.com.