In my last letter I offered you an apology for the mess that we Baby Boomers had left you. In this letter I want to set you a challenge. It is not a simple challenge, like solving a cryptic crossword or finding the lost treasure of Moctezuma II.
It’s about saving humanity.
First, a caveat. Notice that I did not say “saving the planet.” There is a reason for that. The planet will take care of itself. It has done so before and will do so again. It doesn’t need us to save it. Cosmos knows that we have done enough harm.1
Why do I say that? Think of past human civilisations that have collapsed and been forgotten: the Incas, the ancient Egyptians, the Easter Islanders. In all cases the planet witnessed the collapse, ignored the fact that humans were no longer present and just got on with the job of covering Inca ruins in jungle or burying Egyptian tombs.2
So, it’s us that needs saving. You and me, your neighbour, your community, humanity, homo sapiens. To my we humans have two major crises facing us. One is climate change, the other inequality.
Doing something about climate change is less about saving the planet, but a lot about saving us. Indeed, the changing climate can easily be seen as the planet’s way of coping with the change we are forcing upon her and may even be viewed as Gaia3 attempting to rid herself of a cancerous growth.
The other issue is that of inequality. Since the 1980s inequality has widened considerably. Not only has the gap between rich nations and poor nations widened, inequality within the rich Western nations has significantly increased also. This massive inequality is not only bad news for the have-nots, but what is less well-known is that that it is also bad news for the whole of society.
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett4 have shown that as inequality increases, social ills in that society worsen – across the board.
|Source: Creative Commons
Interestingly, if we track the rise in CO2 emissions (which contribute significantly to climate change) and the rise in inequality, we find that both “took off” in the 1980s. Coincidentally, that’s about when globalisation took flight.
Globalisation has been described as “the closer integration of the countries and peoples of the world…”5 In one sense it is a manifestation of the inter-connectedness of everything that many of us are aware of. However, globalisation as it is presently being driven is a drab web of uniformity and sameness. What is needed is a net of diversity and creativity.
Therein is my challenge. Generation X and Y – your challenge, should you accept it, is to recognise the global web of uniformity as being harmful to our future and to discover the network that is brilliant, diverse and creative within that web.
The Buddhist metaphor of Indra’s Net is useful here. Indra’s Net is an infinitely inter-connected net with jewels at each of the nodes of the net. Although each jewel may be unique, the facets of each jewel reflect the image of each and everyone of the other jewels and the connections between them.
Looking at the world at present it is possible to see this net. Unfortunately, most of the jewels are dim and tarnished. Many recognise their immediate connections but because of the dimness and tarnishing the whole net is not reflected within them nor back at them.
The task, Generation X and Y, is to polish the facets of the jewel that we are so that the brilliance, the diversity and the creativity of Indra’s Net can be seen in it’s entirety.
We are all connected to a number of different networks: family networks, work networks, sporting networks, cultural networks, religious networks, even short-term networks such as the conversation with someone at a bus-stop or the owner of the corner dairy. When we connect we must reflect all our connections and allow Indra’s Net to shine once more.
So, take your understanding of climate change and your concern for social equity into your churches, share it with your work colleagues, discuss it round the dinner table at home, talk about it over a beer after the footy game.
And, use globalisation. Use the Internet, use social media. But don’t forget that the connections that truly count are human ones. The Arab Spring may have begun with a posting on YouTube, but it was on the streets and in the squares that the voices were heard.
I wish you well,
A Baby Boomer.
1. This should not be read as my suggesting that environmental actions are worthless.
2. For an excellent account of this process see Alan Weisman, The World Without Us.
3. The Gaia hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock posits that the Earth is a self-regulating complex system involving the biosphere, the atmosphere, the hydrospheres and the pedosphere, tightly coupled as an evolving system. (Wikipedia)
4. Wilkinson and Pickett, The Spirit Level, Penguin, London, 2010.
5. Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and its Discontents, W W Norton and Co., New York, 2002, p 9.