For far too long environmentalists have attempted to move people to climate action by pointing to future generations. They plead, Think of the children! We need to act so that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren do not inherit a broken planet.
While this talking point may deepen the commitment from already eco-conscious parents and grandparents, to me, someone without any offspring, it falls flat. I have nothing against kids, but when it comes to talking about climate change, I literally have no personal DNA in the game.
But there is a bigger problem with doing it for the children and grandchildren, those innocent tikes who will one day inherit the earth. It gives the impression that climate change still hasn't happened, but will eventually raise its ugly head some time down the road.
In highlighting the reality of humans harming the world through CO2 emissions, one US leader proclaimed:
This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.
This clear pronouncement was followed up with a chilling statement from the National Research Council:
We now understand that industrial wastes, such as carbon dioxide released during the burning of fossil fuels, can have consequences for climate that pose a considerable threat to future society...The scientific problems are formidable, the technical problems, unprecedented, and the potential economic and social impacts, ominous.
That sounds to me like an urgent call to immediate action to insure climate stability for future generations. And if those statements sound like more of the same global warming jibber-jabber you read every day in the news, here's something that will put it in perspective: That US leader who raised the CO2 alarm was actually President Lyndon B. Johnson speaking nearly 50 years ago in 1965. The National Research Council then took it a step further in 1977 with the strong statement they released during the Carter Administration. If climate change was apparent then, it's undoubtedly right in our faces today.
So exactly who are these children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who are doomed to inherit a dysfunctional earth and atmosphere? Yeah, that would be us. Welcome to the new planet earth where the effects of global warming are already being felt--droughts, superstorms, floods, and crop failures are no longer predictions for the future, but a present reality. Oh sure it can get much worse; these are the birth pangs of a new age of a climate change-driven world bequeathed to us by our ancestors.
The challenges we face today though are not insurmountable. Many of us have already overcome potential disasters we inherited from our parents and grandparents. Debt comes to mind or a genetic disposition to develop heart disease, diabetes, and even alcoholism. And some of us have even survived abusive and neglectful caregivers. In response, we have developed strategies to adapt and thrive. In other words, this is not our first rodeo, but global warming is the biggest one we will likely ever have to address, one that we cannot take on alone.
And while we have been handed this nasty climate catastrophe from previous generations, we also come from a people that have proven themselves time and again to rise to the challenges of their times, to act with purpose, creativity, and determination.
During the 1920s, '30s, and '40s our ancestors faced regional drought, global financial collapse, and devastating world war. In the 1980s, HIV/AIDS, with a 100% fatality rate, threatened a whole generation of gay men and others who suffered from the plague as they also had to confront a government unwilling to acknowledge the problem and a president who refused to even call the disease by its name. Throughout the past 200 years people of color, indigenous people, and women have endured severe and relentless oppression, yet they have continued to speak out, organize, and demand a better world for themselves and their children.
Today we are in troubled times. This current climate crisis calls on us to dig deep inside ourselves to find the courage needed to face the reality of climate change, to educate ourselves, and to discover what our roles might be on a new planet. The ball is now in our hands.
(Quotes on CO2 pollution come from "Merchants of doubt: how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming" By: Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway. Bloomsbury Press 2010)