The No Future Generation: What Have We Left for Our Children?
Join the Global Youth Climate Strike on Sept 23, San Diego!
By Jim Miller
Last weekend I dropped my only son off at UC Santa Cruz for the beginning of his freshman year. While that occasion was filled with the usual pride and excitement about the beginning of his big adventure along with dreams about the future, it was also tinged with sadness for my wife and me. And that sadness is not just the understandable grief that comes with watching your beloved child grow up and go away.
What hangs over the heads of any thinking parent at present is THE looming question: what kind of future will our children encounter?
My son is interested in doing something around urban planning, shaping cities to make them more just and livable. Whatever road he takes, I’m confident he will do some good. He has grown up wandering the streets of downtown San Diego and its central city neighborhoods, observing the plight of the homeless, the flaws of our transit system, and a host of other inequities about which we frequently talk. He has a million ideas about how things could be done better, and I love him for that.
In addition to these conversations, we have also spent a lot of time outside, in the wilderness, and we’ve gone to see places that he knows are endangered, whether they be animals, trees or landscapes—Joshua Trees, Sequoias, Hawaiian birds, and much more. So our adventures as he has grown up have always been coupled with a sense of pending loss. This made those moments both more precious and tragic.
There is no innocence in a world on fire.
During this last summer together, we were talking about where he might end up living eventually and what kind of life he wants. He mentioned that he wasn’t thinking of having children because, “Who knows what the world will be like for them?” He said this not with bitterness, but matter-of-factly. I wasn’t surprised by it because I have heard the same sentiment from many of the college students I have taught in recent years.
Welcome to the world we live in now as seen from the wary eyes of the young.
Not long after that conversation, I came across an article noting that the hesitance to have children is hardly unique to my family. As the AP story observed :
Fears about climate change have cemented the idea of living without children for many [one young woman said]
“Now with increased wildfires, droughts, heat waves, all of a sudden it is becoming real that, OK, this is happening during my time, and what is this going to look like during the time that my children are alive?” she said . . .
[Another] graduate student who works in legal services in Austin, Texas, has a list of reasons for not wanting to give birth: the climate crisis and a genetic health condition among them.
“I don’t think it’s responsible to bring children into this world,” Johnson said. “There are already kids who need homes. I don’t know what kind of world it’s going to be in 20, 30, 40 years.”
This is what anticipatory grief looks like in 2022. We are no longer talking about generations hence. As we sweat and wheeze through the heat domes and wildfires and read about one catastrophe after another, it’s far past time we stop pretending that our kids won’t have to pay for our failures. They already are.
As David Helvarg wrote in the LA Times, even the big climate policies we are finally seeing come to pass at the local, state, and federal levels are still not enough to turn the tide:
With the Inflation Reduction Act in August, President Biden signed the first major climate bill in U.S. history. We need to view its provisions and incentives less as putting an end to heat waves, wildfires and algal blooms and more as triage — doing what we can while we can to salvage what we might . . .
The hope is that if we commit the remainder of this century to a new human enterprise of green transition and restoration, there might still be 10% of today’s tropical reefs and redwoods left at the end of the century along with remnant populations of wildlife, plus sufficient foodstuffs for a human population that increases by about 1% yearly and has more than doubled since the first Earth Day in 1970.
Some of today’s economic trends and social movements, including the movement to divest from fossil fuel companies and direct capital to renewables instead, offer a modicum of hope that “too little” and “too late” can still translate into “do more” and “never say never.”
Despite this, our political news is still frequently filled with a myriad of other distractions that help us keep up the illusion that there is something else equally or more important than the existential threat to our continued existence. The political grown-ups tell us that proposals like the Green New Deal are fantasy, and we just need to take what we can get. In fact, the chorus goes, we should applaud “not enough to save the future.”
This is a variety of insanity, and it is precisely the thing that frustrates young people who justifiably feel they have been given the short end of the stick by their elders. Even with the world on fire, all we seem to have to offer is the same old bullshit. Refusing to recognize that we are in the midst of a climate emergency that threatens our very survival is not practical politics, it is suicidal ineptitude.
The very least those of us who know better can do is stand with young people who are demanding the impossible. It is, in fact, a moral imperative. They are our best hope and deserve our wholehearted presence and continued advocacy.
Thus, I will be marching with them on Friday, September 23rd at noon at Waterfront Park in downtown. I hope you will join them too.
Join the Global Youth Climate Strike, San Diego
For More information go here: https://sandiego350.org/event/civi_event_1401/?instance_id=328