Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Have we been good stewards of our Earth?

A good friend has noted that today is 12/12/12 ... the last such triplet of date-numbers for this century.  There will be no more until the next century.  Thus, it represents an opportunity for us to reflect on what our world will be like on the first of January 2101 (the next triplet: 1/1/1).  Many of us now living won't be around to see it, of course, so it also represents an opportunity for us to reflect on how well we've done.

I'm technically a "baby boomer" (born in 1945) even though I was conceived before WWII was over.  In the 1960s, we were teenagers - a time of rebellion against the "establishment", the "hippies", the sexual "revolution" (birth control pills and "free love"), anti-establishment protests, anti-war protests, the widespread use of marijuana and hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, and so on.  Peace and love were supposed to be our agenda.  So what happened to all that?  Well, for one thing, the drug culture destroyed some of it.  The end of the Vietnam War in 1974 killed off all the protests because the draft was no longer going to be a threat.  The assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King seemed to undermine the idealism that pervaded the 1960s.  The protesters grew up, got jobs, put on their work clothes, and became the establishment.  That youthful idealism seems to have wilted in the face of the realities of life by the 1970s.  Gradually, it seems the protesters who set out to "change the world" of the 1960s became the "me generation" - focused on the "good life" as seen on TV, and ultimately selfish.  We sold out.

So we confront today's prospects of:  economic collapse, profound environmental degradation including global warming, the threat of religious terrorism, deep political division, a diminishing supply of fossil fuels, a staggering national debt, a crumbling national infrastructure, sectarian violence around the world, the subversion of American politics by financial institutions and international corporations, massive unemployment,  a widening gap between the rich and the poor, an increase in the rate of plant and animal extinctions, an exploding world population, the rise of the specter of epidemics, the increasing lethality of weapons, public education underfunded and in rapid decline ... need I continue with this depressing list?  It seems the prospects for a bright future with the arrival of the next millenium are not very good.  An apocalypse of one sort or another seems inevitable ... yet we'll stick our heads into the sand - just pretend that all is grand (thank you, Steppenwolf)

My generation will be mostly gone by the middle of the 21st century.  How well have we done, as more and more of us approach retirement?   Answer:  see the preceding list.  It's not a record I have any cause to be proud of, certainly.  Yes, we've managed occasional spots of positive change.  I like to think that within the sphere of my influence, I've done some positive things.  I'm certainly not personally responsible for everything that's happened - a lot of what has transpired was against my wishes and I had no personal control over most of the events leading to where we are now.  Yet I wonder what I might have done to improve our situation as it now seems to be.  We seem to be on a path to self-destruction that I certainly didn't see ahead of us in the 1960s.  Honestly, even in retrospect, I don't see how I could have done much about the flow of events that have led us to where we are now.  Although I'm ashamed of the legacy my generation is leaving to our children and grandchildren, I just can't imagine what I should have done differently.  As individuals we seem powerless to alter the seemingly inexorable course of history's juggernaut.  All we can do is try to make a positive difference in our own little spheres, and that seems so inadequate in retrospect.

Of course, we may somehow muddle through all the impending threats, but the ultimate joker in the deck stacked against us is the inevitable decline in fossil fuels and what that portends for the lifestyle we now enjoy.  There are many very scary ramifications of the decline in energy availability.  Our stewardship of the Earth has not been one of great success - what we are passing on is significantly degraded from what we inherited.  Only time will tell how things will actually turn out, but I'm not at all proud of my generation's performance.  An apology seems pathetically unhelpful, too.

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