New Internationalist

We messed up, but you can still save the planet

Sun breaking through clouds by fdecomite under a CC Licence

Photo by fdecomite under a CC Licence

I’m writing this on behalf of my generation, the generation that has shaped the modern world. With miraculous electronic devices, endless supplies of consumer gadgets and toys, international burger chains and the power of consumerism, we have created a world of plenty and endless progress.

It’s a lie, of course; an illusion; and deep down, you know this.

You know that this has all been done with a fuel source that’s about to run out. You know that in creating a cornucopia for humans we have driven other species to extinction and trashed the climate.

You know about the insanity of the financial markets. You know that money is a fiction on which major decisions are made about the future of millions of people and that the real world is worth nothing in accounting systems which are used to manage the global economy. You know that globalization has poisoned and neutralized politics and that corporations run governments.

Your generation has been brought up to believe in the power of personal choice – as long as it is confined to the market-place. You have almost unimaginable freedom to do anything you want, except have any real power in the world.

Mind you, we have left you with some cool stuff – you’ve got iPods and rock’n’roll, so you can listen to songs about love, freedom and sex while the world falls apart. Until the batteries run out.

While you’ve been playing, we’ve been using the atmosphere as a trash can, dumping the carbon left over after we burned the fuel to make your toys dance. We’ve now stolen the very air you breathe, polluting a future that most of my generation will never see.

Sorry about that.

We didn’t mean to stuff up quite so badly, not most of us anyway, but that doesn’t change the fact that we did. Big time.

What can you do about it? Nothing, if you listen to the corporate and government apologists. Plenty, if you listen to your own voice. Five years is all you’ve got, starting now. It’s just enough time to turn things around, but the changes needed are nothing short of revolutionary. Don’t believe any of the old rules. This ain’t no video game.

If I were you, I’d be getting angry. Very angry. Full-on, get-out-of-my-way angry. But don’t look to political leaders: they follow money and votes. Don’t expect leadership from major corporations, unless you want to be led over a precipice. And don’t follow sage advice from old folks – they got you into this mess in the first place.

The mess that you see coming out of climate talkfests is an eloquent expression of just what a bunch of no-hopers we really are. We have failed you.

Now it’s your turn.


About the author
Architect, writer and urban evolutionary, with a doctorate in environmental studies, Paul Downton was born when the CO2 levels in the atmosphere were 311 ppm. It’s now 390. He spent the early 1980s reading papers on climate science and figured out, from the evidence, that we were headed for global warming. In 1989 Paul was instrumental in forming The Greenhouse Association of South Australia, one of the first citizens’ organizations devoted to combating climate change. That was 22 years ago.

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