An appeal to Boomers and Gen Xers

Published Tuesday, June 20, 2017 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

As a speaker, I’m always interested in hearing what audience members think of my presentations about climate change.  Usually, the comments I receive are earnest and sincere, reflecting deep concern about the problem.

However, one comment I received after a recent high school presentation was different.  It was piercing – and discomfortingly honest.

The comment

“This generation of adults, who were the ones who ruined our planet in the first place, love to tell us about how bad it’s gotten,” the anonymous student wrote.  “They also LOVE to tell us how WE as millennials can make a difference by helping the planet they destroyed.”

“Our whole lives we have been told about global warming and how we have to fix Earth.  It has become redundant, and we are sick of hearing it.  Maybe you should talk to the people who ruined and continue to ruin the planet.”

Ouch – but made even more painful by the considerable truth amid the strong words.

Grasshoppers

If, like me, you’re a Baby Boomer or a Generation Xer, count yourself among the luckiest people ever.

Baby Boomers were born between 1945 and the early 1960s.  Their hard-working parents had just won the Second World War, and spared no effort to ensure that their children would have a better life.  Boomers have been called the ‘grasshopper generation’, because they have consumed more resources than any generation before them.

Generation X, born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s, has followed the same course of consumption.  Enabled by an abundance of technology, it has driven, bought and jetted its way to a beautiful lifestyle its grandparents could scarcely have imagined.

Consequences

The planet has taken note.  According to the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, 86 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions ever generated by humanity (through our burning of fossil fuels) have been generated since the first Boomer was born in 1946.

The level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has risen accordingly – from 277 parts per million (PPM) in 1750 to 308 PPM in 1945 to 404 PPM today.  In other words, three-quarters of the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution has happened in the lifetimes of Boomers and Gen Xers.

As one of them, I can say with conviction: Ouch.

Unfortunately, we can’t turn back time; things are what they are.  None of us adopted our lifestyles with any deliberate intent of causing long-term negative environmental consequences – yet clearly we all bear a sliver of responsibility for climate change.  

And that makes it disingenuous for we Boomers and Gen Xers to simply dismiss climate change as “too complicated for me” or “something our young people will have to fix” (perhaps you hear those lines often too).

What to do

If you’re a Boomer or Gen Xer like me who thinks we’re better than that, why not:

  • Strive to become conscious of your own carbon footprint (hint: it’s mainly in your home and how you heat it; your vehicle and how much you drive it; and your diet), and then do what you can to reduce it
  • Invest in efficiency, whether through insulation, an ENERGY STAR appliance or an electric vehicle; and know that, particularly in these environmentally precarious times, economics is not the only measure of a great investment
  • Strive to do the most good with the least bad, as a wise friend of mine likes to say.  Living a zero-impact life is pretty hard, but making a few adjustments to live our current lives with less impact is really quite easy.

Surely we owe that much to that young person at KVHS who dared to share truth with me, and to all young people.