By many measures, the benefits of global industrial civilization peaked in our youth, but for most middle-class baby boomers of the affluent countries, the continuing experience of those benefits has tended to blind us to the constriction of opportunities faced by the next generations: unaffordable housing and land access, ecological overshoot and climate chaos amongst a host of other challenges.
I am a white middle-class man born in 1955 in Australia, one of the richest nations of the ‘western world’ in the middle of the baby boom, so I consider myself well placed to articulate an apology on behalf of my generation.
We were the first generation to have clear scientific evidence that emergent global civilization was on an unsustainable path that would precipitate an unraveling of both nature and society through the 21st century. Although climate chaos was a less obvious outcome than the no-brainer of resource depletion, international recognition of the reality of climate change came way back in 1988, just as we were beginning to get our hands on the levers of power, and we have presided over decades of policies that have accelerated the problem.
Over the years since, the adverse outcomes have shifted from distant risks to lived realities. These impact hardest on the most vulnerable peoples of the world who have yet to taste the benefits of the carbon bonanza that has driven the accelerating climate catastrophe. For the failure to share those benefits globally and curb our own consumption we must be truly sorry.
We might hope this apology is itself a wake-up call to the younger generations that are still mostly sleepwalking into the oncoming maelstroms. In raising the alarm we might hope our humble apology will galvanize the potential in young people who are grasping the nettle of opportunities to turn problems into solutions.
We hope that this apology might lead to understanding rather than resentment of our frailty in the face of the self-organizing forces of powerful change that have driven the climaxing of global industrial civilization. Finally, the task ahead for our generation is to learn how to downsize and disown before we prepare to die, with grace, at a time of our choosing, and in a way that inspires and frees the next generations to chart a prosperous way down.
The first is characterized by intensifying efforts to fix the mess we have created. The idea here is that if we just work harder, we can change the situation. The second is mitigation of inevitable suffering and loss, easing the pain and harm that is already underway. Mitigation slows the demise down, giving us the time for the third, which is adaptation to the life-threatening scenarios before us, or in Bendell’s words, “deep adaptation.”
It is a region of vague possibilities for profound change.
Ecosystem Restoration Camps
We know enough to say that Biodiversity, Biomass and Accumulated Organic Matter are the evolutionary factors that have always regulated the Earth’s climate (as well as soil fertility, biodiversity and the fresh water system (hydrological cycle).
Each of us affects this every day with all sorts of choices. When we are unconscious of the importance of the need for total vegetative cover, the role of the accumulating organic matter and the amazing diversity many of our choices are negative. Consider over-consumption, energy use, urban design, industrial agriculture, even just how we make grass lawns in all biomes.
When we understand how natural ecological systems work to cool, to infiltrate water, to support the microbial and fungal communities that transformed the Earth making it possible for us to exist then we act differently.
It really gets interesting when we realize that together we are powerful. We can join together in Ecosystem Restoration Camps and immediately and directly have a major impact on maintaining total vegetative cover, encouraging biodiversity, growing fertile soils, lowering temperatures, increasing moisture availability, and regulating the Earth’s climate.
When we have this level of understanding we realize that it is not just our negative behavior that affects the Earth’s climate. We can learn and implement all the best practices to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Then we are the answer to climate change.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
― Wendell Berry