Climate change is a problem and it needs to be dealt with but playing the generational blame game doesn’t solve a thing, it just creates counter-productive divisions. Every generation from the Silent Generation (born mid-late 20s to mid 40s) onwards has to bear some share of the blame, although perhaps for slightly different reasons.
I’m right at the end of the Baby Boomers generation (born 1946-1964) and that generation can probably be lumped in with Generation X (born 1965-1980) when it comes to attitudes to climate change during our younger years.
What later generations don’t understand is how little we, the public, knew about climate change back in those days. It is easy to say we should have “just found out”, but if it wasn’t in the newspapers or on the telly, we were unlikely to find out about anything. Remember, there was no internet.
I can’t ever remember anything about global warming being mentioned in school. The first I remember hearing about any big environmental issue was in the 80s. There was a problem with Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroying the ozone layer and we did act on that and banned them in 1996.
Certainly there wasn’t much in the public perception at that time about an impending climate catastrophe.
The energy companies probably suppressed some of their own reports and, again, there was no internet. If you didn’t read certain specialist magazines it is unlikely to have been on your radar.
Some younger reporters just don’t understand how different society was, even just three or four decades ago. Take this report in The Straits Times by Dana Nuccitelli, a (millennial) climate scientist and journalist:
But climate scientists have been warning about a potential climate crisis for decades, while the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers failed to act on those warnings. As a result, they frittered away the opportunity to transition away from fossil fuels with relative ease. Because of those decades of inaction, we now face a daunting task.
He goes on to mention things like:
Every American president since the 1960s has been warned about climate change …
In 1979, the world's foremost climate scientists published a major climate report finding that if humans double the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere …
In the early 1980s, Exxon's climate scientists issued internal company reports warning that fossil fuel consumption could double atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by 2060 …
In 1988, an internal Shell company report included a similar warning …
Who knew about these things back then? Certainly not me and I’d wager very few members of the public knew about them then either. I’d like to bet Mr Nuccitelli found out about these things from the internet and he’s failing to appreciate how significant that is. His generationist stance is casting me as a villain for not acting on warnings I never knew about.
We didn’t have a great deal of choice with a lot of things either. In the 60s and 70s you couldn’t switch suppliers for your energy. It was delivered by nationalised industry and you were just stuck with what you got. There were no ‘Green Deals’ in those days. The energy industry spent much of the 70s on strike anyway and I remember many evenings when the only power we had in the house was from a candle.
It was the 90s before climate change properly became public knowledge. If we — Baby Boomers and Generation X — have to take the blame for anything, it’s probably for being slow to get our heads around things. Again though, we had a World Wide Web in the 90s but it was absolutely nothing like the World Wide Web we have today. Things are very different when information is not at your fingertips like it is now.
There were more articles about climate change cropping up in newspapers and TV programmes in the 90s but I wouldn’t call it mainstream as far as the collective consciousness goes. Nevertheless, there was a certain apathy at first and that apathy went on too long and I’ll accept some blame as part of a generation that was too slow on the uptake.
So we’re definitely not blameless but in other respects we were far more environmentally friendly than the generations that followed us. There was far less consumerism. We had far fewer clothes, food was never wasted, there was a tiny fraction of the packaging we see these days, there were fewer plastics, we drank out of bottles and recycled them, we used paper rather than plastic bags, we made cups of tea and coffee in china mugs at home rather than buying from coffee shops and a digital watch was the peak of the gadgetry we could indulge in.
I wouldn’t be surprised if my carbon footprint at 16 was lower than a current 16 year-old’s is, even including the coal-power I used to keep warm and see at night.
My generation has to take its share of the blame but Millenials (born 1981-1996) and Generation Zs (born 1997 onwards) have to take their share too, particularly in relation to rampant consumerism.
It is risky to criticise Greta Thunberg these days and I do so knowing full well I’m likely to be cast as a Neo-Nazi climate denying ‘gammon’ with a proclivity for sex with goats, but I’m compelled to be honest. Greta is right to have a pop at inert politicians, protectionist energy companies and the laughable climate change deniers, but Greta says:
You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you.
That implies no blame for her generation or those just before it and complete blame for the generations around my era, which is simply not right.
I’m getting an increasing sense that the younger generations are blaming the older generations for virtually every ill in current society. I think that’s wrong. It’s also dangerous and hugely counter-productive. Granted, it’s more common amongst the unthinking keyboard warriors on social media, but it’s beginning to seep into the real world too.
The central tenet of Greta’s message is correct. She has all the science on her side and she’s doing a fantastic job of raising awareness. But we don’t need to start creating divisions unnecessarily and I think generationist attitudes are as poisonous as any of the other ‘ists’ we have in society.
You are a product of the generation you were born into and you adapt to the society dealt to you as well as you can. There is always some resentment across generations of course and you can bet Greta’s generation will eventually be blamed for some things too, probably things that aren’t even on her generation’s radar yet (despite the internet).
So what do we do about climate change anyway?
You may as well forget about climate deniers because that’s a faith-based thing and, if religion’s anything to go by, it’s obvious that no amount of science can dent faith, no matter how ludicrous the faith is.
Energy companies and those with strong financial interests in keeping things the way they are will always fight change in that respect. It’s short-sighted and it’s a very odd way to look at things but it’s nevertheless true. Such is humanity.
Politicians can be swayed, though. All they really want are votes and I do believe politicians (in the UK, anyway) are beginning to accept they have to address the problem of climate change. As with most things in politics, though, it’s happening too slowly.
I worry about the third world. They’re going to want to industrialise and won’t take kindly to us telling them they shouldn’t when we’ve already industrialised ourselves. I also worry that nobody seems to address the elephant in the room, at least not seriously: population. All man-made climate change directly proportional to the amount of people on the planet. If we bred far less often, we’d have fewer problems but it’s patently obvious that nobody’s even going to float that idea in any serious way, let alone take some action.
It’s certainly too late to stop some of the effects of climate change because they’re already happening. Can they be reversed? Can more changes be avoided? I really don’t know but, what ever the situation with that, there’s absolutely no excuse for not trying our best.
We must not just throw our hands up and say there’s no point. If changes are inevitable then surely it’s still best to minimise them. There’s no point saying the climate will change of its own accord anyway. It will but we can’t control that whereas we can control our own contribution towards climate change. Ignoring that would be like jumping off a cliff on the basis that you’ll eventually die of natural causes anyway.
We need to learn to adapt too. Change has already happened and, barring a sudden, miraculous worldwide change in attitudes, there will be more damage before we get a grip of things (if we ever do). So we’d be well advised to look at how we’ll adapt to climate change alongside the admittedly more important task of preventing further change.
This is my considered opinion on these matters. I can see me getting shot down for some of the things I’ve said here but I can’t tell it in any other way than the way I see it.