When I was born the atmospheric CO2 concentration level had just broken through the top end of the 170-300 ppm range.
Only 60 years later (a blink in geologic time) concentrations surpassed 400 ppm and this year reached 415 ppm.
That CO2 increase has directly caused the warming of the planet. We, homo sapiens, have hugely contributed to the increase.
In my lifetime atmospheric CO2 concentration has leapt over 100 ppm to a concentration level unseen for more than 800,000 years – and at a rate 100 times faster than the “natural” background rate.
Tomorrow (20 September 2019), students and young people all over the world will be striking for action on climate change. They have been doing so since 2012, and moreso since August 2018 when 15 year old Greta Thunberg took time off school to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament.
These students and young people are challenging older people to take notice, and to do something.
As one who grew up contributing to, or at least, benefiting from, the increase in CO2 concentrations, what do I say to these young people? I don't know the answer to that question, but here are some preliminary thoughts.
The first thing I have to say is – nothing! Absolutely nothing.
When I was young, I and my cohorts, accused my elders of not listening. My elders were not listening to our call for an end to the Vietnam War. My elders were not listening to our call for an end to apartheid and other racist regimes. My elders were not listening to our calls for a halt to native forest logging, not listening to our calls to abandon nuclear arms and nuclear power.
Now, I am of the “older” generation. How can I possibly choose to not listen to younger generations. Conscientiously I cannot. Nor should any of my cohorts.
The next thing to say does not involve words either. It is about what I do, or do not do. I do not go on living in unconcerned comfort as most of my generation has always done.
I grew up in a generation which demanded individual rights - a mistaken claim. I cannot now assume that it is my right to play and luxuriate in the comfortable nest created by my generation’s consumerist approach of the past 60 years.
Stephen Jenkinson (1) said it well when he said that “now is not an okay time for okay people to be okay.” He’s right. And young people know he is right, and are not afraid to tell us, as they will be tomorrow.
So then. Listen. Don’t get comfortable.
Then, I have to take responsibility. I have to become aware of the ripples of consequences (the wake) that flow out behind my behaviour and actions.
Four Effective Choices
The four most effective things in terms of climate change that I can be responsible for as an individual are:
- limiting the number of children I have,
- drastically reducing the number of international flights I make,
- eating a meat-free diet,
- going car less.
My choices then become part of my lifestyle. I make them over and over again. I do not renege, I do not give up, I do not abandon younger generations.
I make these choices as an older person who accepts response-ability.
My first choice though, is to listen to the students and young people tomorrow.
1. Stephen Jenkinson is the author of Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble.