Boomers, millennials and the climate apocalypse

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – November 24, 2019 – 12:00am

I have been thinking and worrying about the environment for a long time now. Decades ago, I started educating myself about environmental issues that mankind and the earth would be facing. I joined a few groups that had environmental concerns as their advocacy. I have kept abreast of the latest news and I continue to update my knowledge about it. It hardly occurred to me then that everything we feared about global warming and climate change would be unraveling in my lifetime. Not only is it happening, but it is also occurring at a faster pace and at a scale we never imagined.

The scientists were right all along. We’ve pushed the limits without thinking of the repercussions. Something has to give. The proverbial feces have hit the fan big time.

Mother Nature has become Mama Bitch Goddess.  Don’t expect love and nurturing from hereon. Nature is way too angry and now seeks retribution.

I was having a conversation with my millennial nephews a few days ago. We were talking about random things. Soon enough, we started talking about the environment and how their generation felt about climate change.

I was not surprised that they had an attitude of hopelessness about a lot of things. They said that the past generations have messed up the world so much that their generation and those that will follow will no doubt be facing a bleaker future.

They mentioned the unprecedented floods, droughts, forests fires, typhoons, storms, earthquakes, etc., that have been happening more and more often. By all measurements, environmental degradation is becoming more intense and severe. What we are going through is probably the new normal now, they said. Because of this, they expressed the fear that life would be harder for their generation. As they get older, they would enjoy less and less the same quality of life that they’ve experienced so far. They do not expect mankind to thrive on a planet that is dying of carbon overload. What depresses them most is the indifference of those in power regarding the environment. Greed still rules over the need to act swiftly and decisively to change the trajectory and heal the earth.

I used to imagine the next 15 years of my life in somewhat idyllic terms. In that world, I would still be healthy enough to travel to any place, enjoy the outdoors, and probably live by the beach for a few months every year. But with the air pollution problem worsening worldwide, the rising of the sea levels, the disappearing islands, the comeback of old diseases and germs, etc., I know I will have to reimagine a less optimistic one.

During the conversation, I thought of how different my generation was. Boomers (as my generation is called) lived quite an amazing life. That’s because our parents sacrificed a lot. It is important to point out that our parents’ big defining moment was World War II. They experienced the ugliness of war, hardship, famine, violence, scarcity, and fear. They literally scrounged for food, fought the enemy, suffered greatly and survived through it all. And despite the untold hardships, they overcame, survived and even thrived after the war. They weren’t called “The Greatest Generation” for nothing.

We were born and grew up during the post-war era. There was relative peace. Times were definitely much better. There were many new opportunities for growth. In fact, we were raised during more prosperous times. College was more affordable. We had a higher standard of living that seemed to get better as the world modernized rapidly. We could be anything we wanted to be. And many of us went for our dreams and succeeded.

But even if our generation had it better than our parents, we were still raised to be tough. There were no excuses about not going to school. We had to finish our food. We were taught good manners and correct conduct. We could not argue with our parents. We were subjected to greater discipline than the generations that followed us. We did not harbor feelings of entitlement or privilege.

Most of the psychological conditions that kids suffer from today — like ADHD, ADD, bipolar syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, depression, and the whole spectrum of autism — were probably already present among boomers then. But these conditions were not clinically identified yet. If we had any of those conditions, no one knew what to call it. Not the schools, our parents, not even us, had any idea it was unusual (except for clear-cut autism). Those who had these conditions were dismissed as weird. They just suffered and toughed it out.

To the millennials, and Gen Z, the imagined future is not comforting. Many millennials are resigned to the fact that not all of them will be able to earn enough to buy their own homes as their parents did. The home will have to be a tiny condo (if they can afford it), or maybe their parents’ house. They will not earn enough to afford new cars, travel and enjoy the finer things in life that their boomer parents were able to enjoy and share with them. They won’t be able to afford that on their own.

I asked my nephews to give their take on why so many kids were undergoing depression and why suicide has become the secondary cause of death among many of the young. I ventured my opinion that we boomers were probably too soft on our kids. We wanted the best for them and gave them everything, so much so that they became used to an easy life. In short, we softened them up too much and spoiled them. We did not make them tough enough the way our own parents made us tough.

My nephews pointed out that the times and conditions now are so different from that of the boomers. There are more social pressures now because of social media. Having access to so many things all at once has caused many of them to have much lower attention spans, less discipline, and patience. And they spend way more time in the virtual than in the real world. Addiction is also more common because of feelings of alienation. I would add a lack of parental care and adult supervision among the reasons why kids today are more screwed up. I also notice that they have serious commitment issues. Too many choices, some studies say, is not always a good thing.

We boomers are at that stage in our lives when we are beginning to plan and prepare for our grand exit.  Many of us are in retirement. Millennials are just beginning to inherit this messy world and shape it into their own image.

What are we to do in response to the environmental tragedy that the earth is progressively hurtling towards? While everything is rapidly descending into an apocalypse, is there time to respond and save the earth? Scientists say we barely have time. But yes, we must do something.

Sometimes, I wonder why I am still adding more causes to fight for than I already have time for. My plate is too full. I am getting too old for this. At my age, I need new ways to cope with the staggering problems we face now. Perhaps having the wisdom to live and accept how things are is what I need at this point. I remember a quote from Joseph Campbell, and while it goes against the grain of the activist life I often live, its truth speaks to me.

“We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.”

Maybe we will win and save the earth. Maybe we won’t. But wherever and however everything turns out, we don’t have to lose our spirit and die in hopelessness. May we all live the rest of our lives with joyful engagement to the end.


If we live up to 150 years, when do we become senior citizens?

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – November 10, 2019 – 12:00am

During most of the past 5,000 years, the greatest threats to humanity have been sickness, famine, and wars. We have had plagues that decimated millions of people. The Bubonic plague, the Black Death, the Antonine plague in 165 AD, cholera, malaria, etc. reduced entire populations to as much as 1/10 of their former size in a matter of months.

Mass starvation has been the cause of millions of deaths throughout human history. The Great Irish Potato Famine, the droughts in Russia, as well as many other parts of the world, are all recorded in history. And yes, millions starved to death.

And wars, with all their pillaging, have caused the demise of whole communities, countries, and peoples since the beginning of time.

But something has happened in the past 100 years. Mankind has had great success in eradicating sickness, wars, and famine in truly impressive ways. The acceleration of evolutionary progress is such that we are solving these problems faster (although, admittedly, also creating new ones).

During the last century, there have not been epidemics that have caused deaths by the tens of thousands. The few epidemics and viruses — like SARS, Ebola, HIV — were quashed relatively quickly preventing more widespread deaths. While we cannot say that deadly plagues killing thousands will not happen again, in all probability, it won’t, thanks to advances in medicines, vaccines, and sciences for saving many lives all over the world.

Food supply in practically all corners of the world has greatly increased in abundance thanks to scientific agriculture and modern food production. We are winning the war against hunger. While there are still many starving people in fourth world or war-torn parts of the world, it is a fact that more people suffer more from obesity now than hunger.

The last major war was 80 years ago when millions died during World War II. We still have conflicts happening in some parts of the world. But the whole idea of settling disputes by ravaging and conquering a whole country or continent and its people by military force is largely becoming an obsolete idea. People are actually solving more conflicts today through diplomacy and negotiations.

I have been reading all this in a book entitled Homo Deus: The Future of Mankind by Yurval Noah Harari, and I am finding his examination of history very fascinating.

According to the author, the future of mankind, with sickness, mass starvation and the tendency to wars now under control, is his inevitable movement towards his own immortality. Harari says we already have the science to allow humans to live up to 150 years. It is still a bit costly now, but eventually, it will be affordable. This will happen with genetics and changing replaceable parts every few decades. He predicts that by the last quarter of this century, living 150 to 300 years will be probable and widespread. And if a man can live 300 years, why can’t he live 500 years or more?

I am completely absorbed and fascinated by this book. A bunch of questions keeps flashing through my mind. What would living that long feel like? How old would one have to be before he/she becomes a senior citizen? What would the age of consent be? At what age will one go through certain “rites of passage”? What new rites of passages will there be for people who live that long? What is the future of marriage? Does this mean people will still stay married for, say, 200 years to the same partner? Will people stay married “till death do us part,” or will marriage have an expiry date? Will it be renewable? How often will you be renewing such things as passports and drivers’ licenses? How many years will schooling and education be? Surely, an educational degree a century ago would be obsolete today. How many times will you need to get educated or formally update your education? What about prison sentences? How will they determine how long one must be detained for crimes no that longevity has greatly expanded? How many residences will you live in throughout your life? How many citizenships will one go through in this much longer lifetime? And ultimately: Would you really want to live that long?

Author Harari claims the science of “immortality” is already here. Theoretically, science today can create a generation of babies with designer genes that will give them every advantage to live even longer with the help of gadgets, machines, replaceable body parts and new discoveries.

Many people are upset at the idea that we seem to be going against the laws of nature. They claim man is playing God. It is notable to point out that at every juncture of a scientific breakthrough, issues like these always pop up.

Humans today are not the same types of humans that roamed the earth just 50 years ago. Humans today are, by definition, cyborgs (a combination of humans and machines). We are now routinely equipped with hearing aids, eyeglasses, dentures, knee and hip replacements, pacemakers, manufactured eye lenses, titanium for our bones, and implants of all sorts for a few decades now. This has made our lives easier — and longer.

Can liver, kidney, heart, lungs, bones, brains, tissue and muscle replacements be far behind? More amazing breakthroughs will happen to enhance the human body and prolong life.

Many people today have been granted a reprieve from an earlier death through the intercession of science. And death’s so-called inevitability continues to be pushed further back. You can trust science to solve many illnesses and diseases or immunize humans against them. As an example, one important game-changer is the new class of antibiotics that can fight new evolving forms of resistant diseases.

Even so, the future will certainly create new causes of death. Many of them will be due to the dire environmental crises mankind is facing now. And it will only get worse. Not all will be given the chance at immortality.

Harari also asks questions about what religion would be like in this brave new future. Will religion as we know it today still be around? Or will a new scientific or “techno” religion exist? (Sorry, I have not finished reading the book yet to supply you with his answer.)

Perhaps along with longevity, there will likely evolve a new consciousness and a modern spirituality. It will still grapple with the immortal questions that will probably remain unanswered  forever such as, “Why are we here?” Or “What is the purpose or meaning of life?” Will we ever find the answers?

The fulfillment of man’s immortal yearning for Oneness, transcendence, his longing to meet God (however they conceive God to be) will be a whole new experience. No one, as of now, is ready to speculate on what that will be like.