Saturday, September 18, 2021

We Blew It!


The latest UN report on greenhouse gas emissions paints a dire picture for the future of life as we know it on Planet Earth.  The report estimates that even if the  most recent action plans submitted by 191 countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions are met, the planet is on track to warm by more than 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century — far above what world leaders have said is the acceptable upper limit of global warming.  That change will not end life on Earth--life will adapt and evolve as it always has but the transition will be ugly.  In the past the kind of changes we can expect within the next century occurred over eons and did not involve highly complex societies designed on the basis of a stable.  Environment.  I won't mourn the demise of homo sapiens.  In general, I think it's a fair reward for our stewardship of our home planet but it's unfair to future generations born into a rapidly changing world for which they have no responsibility.  It's even more unfair to the many other species that will die with us.

As an aging Boomer I can't help but think that my generation blew it.  Oh sure, Boomers didn't create the current political/economic system--it was well under way when we were born--but we didn't live up to the predictions that we would be change agents.  Those predictions were overblown at the time but were still an integral part of our generational identity, either explicitly or in the conventional wisdom.  In reality, we largely accepted things as they were, occasional demonstrations and other resistance notwithstanding, and went on to live our relatively privileged (depending on sex, race, class and other determinants of societal worth) lives.  

What we did not do was take climate change seriously from the beginning.  Early warnings date back to at least 1912 but were not fully understood.  In 1965 The American Association for the Advancement of Science raised concerns about atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change.  By 1988 the dangers were better understood and pointed to a changing world.  In that same year the first Baby Boomer was elected to national office.  The Boomer was Dan Quayle and the office was Vice-President and, while both are relatively insignificant on their own, the event represents our the Boomers' ascent to power.  We were already well-represented at other levels of government.  From 1993 through 2021 every President has been a Boomer.  You'd think that the generation that celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970 would have been sufficiently aware to recognize the dangers posed by those early warnings.

That's not to say we did nothing.  International conferences and panels and made recommendations and pledges were made but nothing fundamental changed.  America and the rest of the industrial world continued to burn fossil fuels and now we face a much shorter timeline for dealing with what is a rapidly deteriorating situation.  The promise of generational progress is that each generation leaves the world better off than it found it.  That was easy enough when we had an entire world to exploit (and the indigenous peoples of those exploited areas weren't part of the deal).  As I write now at the beginning of the 21st century's third decade, meeting that intergenerational is highly unlikely.  

Unlike my generation, future generations will address the consequences of climate change.  They have no choice.  We did and we blew it.

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