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.