I am slowly coming to the end of “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells and my head is full of horror scenarios for the future of our planet. This book is really hard to digest, if that can ever truly happen, but I feel it is also such an important step to take. We need to face who we are and what we’ve done, what we keep doing and why. Unless we do that, how are things ever going to change? No miraculous want will ever be swished over our heads to make everything alright again.
What worries me the most right now is that there is no clear path for action that will unite everyone in the common goal of saving our existence on this planet. Everything can be criticised, nothing is perfect, and this gives many people enough of an excuse to do nothing. Or, the horrors-to-be can make some of us paralysed in the face of the enormity of the situation. Not going into a rational choice-type argument, but seriously, how much impact can the private actions of one person have? The public actions are a different thing, but private ones? Probably close to no impact whatsoever.
I am not saying we should do nothing. On the contrary, we should be doing a lot. I think that, in order to stand any chance, we need three fronts of action: private, political, and prospective (I am still thinking of a better term for this). Let me explain what I mean.
The private and the political actions are two very different kinds of action, but if they don’t happen together, neither has any meaning. For this reason, I will talk about them together. Obviously, what we as individuals do and what the governments do are very separate things. But what I do as an individual will mean nothing if it happens in isolation; it will mean nothing if the larger society goes in a different direction. Similarly, what governments do, what policies they implement, what support they give to farmers, corporations, entrepreneurs, transport companies (you name it!), all of that will mean nothing if individuals don’t make a point of making good, well thought out choices, ones that actually look further down in time than an immediate need or pleasure. Without the conscious support of the public, government decisions and interventions will always be half-measure; they will always fail to have the sought impact. And thus, they will always lose popularity and support from the public. The public needs the support of the governments to be able to do what’s right, and the governments need the support of the public to help them do what’s right.
As I hope you have understood, I am by no means saying that personal action is pointless and we should therefore not be bothered with it at all. We should be bothered with it very much. But we need support. In order to get that support, we need to offer it to those who can give it back. You may say that pointing this out after elections have passed is a bit of a waste of typing, but the thing is that no matter who is in power, no matter who takes decisions, no matter who implements policies, they all need to know that they will lose our support if they don’t take action on climate. Because who cares about this year’s, or the next’s, economic growth, if within years all that will have been annihilated by climate disasters? Anyone in politics needs to think in perspective, and so do we. There’s no need to wait for the next elections in order to demand change. And this is very important to state, and repeat, especially now that elections have only recently taken place. THERE’S NO NEED TO WAIT FOR THE NEXT ELECTIONS IN ORDER TO DEMAND CHANGE.
And now I come to my prospective line of action: children. The way we raise our children today will have a huge impact on what happens in the near, and not so near, future. It is not their fault that they were born in a world going … no one knows exactly where. It is not their fault that we have created a system and an environment that values and supports stuff of its own creation to the detriment of almost everything else. It is not their fault that they are not being taught and given the tools to do better, and even to make us do better. It is an even bigger injustice to them to raise them in the same way we have been raised, knowing full well that this will not prepare them for the future in any shape or form. Fair enough, we don’t know what the future will bring, but I think we can agree that our past education will not help. This realisation has become a fairly common topic in business and even early childhood education, where quite a bit is being written about the fact that most of our children’s future jobs have not been invented yet; about the fact that we need to teach our children different skills in order to give them a chance to be successful in the future.
This idea that a change is required in our teaching strategies is not new, and not a crazy one either. But I think we need to go further. We need to show and teach our kids how to live in a responsible way. We can’t expect them to all of a sudden develop a political and environmental consciousness (and conscientiousness) when they come of “age” and start acting in such a way that safeguards our environment, and is just to all life on Earth. Here again, the private and the prospective go hand in hand. Parents and caretakers need to show children, through their own example, what responsible living means in all its forms, from personal choices to political involvement. But this will not work if everything else around the children still teaches them about the ways of the past.
Say you have small kids, and you try to teach them about not owning everything one could ever (temporarily) desire; you try to teach them about the importance of real food, and the impact our food has on the environment. And then, these kids go to school, and they are faced with a different point of view there: easy choices, tasty choices, waste, the “value” of fashion, and so on. How do you explain to them that the world doesn’t start, but might end, there? That making the easy choice does not mean making the best choice? How do you explain your point of view when it seems to go against the flow?
And here, the prospective meets the political too. Schools, most of which are state-run, need to teach our children different values. They need to keep artificial junk food out, they need to forbid the practice of goodie bags on birthdays, they need to source, use and reuse their craft materials and school supplies in more responsible ways. They also need to let kids be kids and run and be outside as much as possible. They need to encourage the consumption of real food, and not of calorie-counts. They also need to teach kids about nature and our connection and integration with it. They need to help empower them, make them feel responsible and willing to act in a positive way. It is not the school’s responsibility to be the only teacher of such things and values, but it is their responsibility to enforce them alongside the parents and caretakers. After all, our kids spend so much of their childhood there.
The prospective also needs to meet the commercial. This will not benefit corporations, but it is time we stop caring about that. It is time we stop giving them power. We need to support responsible companies, but first and foremost, we need to support any sort of companies less. We simply need to buy less.
Finally, the prospective needs to meet the cultural. As long as what passes as culture these days, and I use this in a very wide sense, keeps sending the same messages of more, new, disposable, temporary, artificial, short-term satisfying, our kids will simply integrate these messages as representing the “normal”, the way the world is and should be. It is easy to teach kids to be different than we were at their age because they don’t need to change in order to accept a new reality. But if we surround them with books that pile wrapped gifts, reward any good behaviour with sugary food, that favour owning to experiencing; if we let them watch shows that make them want to own new and more things; if we teach them that birthdays are about lots of gifts and elaborate parties with a lot of disposable decorations, where no one goes anywhere near any edible stuff that has in the recent past been an actual, real food ingredient; in short, if we teach them that our world is about consumerism and the triumph of man on Earth, on his environment, on his food, we only prepare them for a bigger disappointment and a bigger fall when faced with real life. And, possibly, a bigger fail.
I want my kids to learn to look at the world with a critical eye and think for themselves, and ask whether what they see is right or wrong. I want my kids to not do everything that others do just because it is easy and fun in the short term. No, I don’t want my kids to be miserable and have no fun. But I do want them to have fun doing things, rather than owning things. I want them to learn that it is possible, it is enjoyable, and it is just as easy to lead a more responsible life, one that is in harmony with nature and our planet, one that is not focused on man-produced tangible things, one that is healthy, and full of meaning.
To do that, I need to make changes; I need more individuals around me to make changes; I need the society to make changes; and I need the products around me to change. To prepare our kids for the uncertainty and high degree of difficulty and hardship of the future, we all need to tell them a different story and draw them a different picture. Even if the story and the picture are unfinished, they still need to be different. For the sake of our children’s future.
P.S. I will write more about what I see as the prospective plan of action, as it is such a wide topic and such an important one. This post was meant to simply introduce it.