Thursday, 4 December 2008

Mid-life climate crisis? Well I'm talking about my generation

If you're 50 years old today, you'll have been born in 1958 - Lord Rockingham's XI were number one with 'Hoots Mon'. By the time this song had been adapted for the 'there's juice loose aboot this hoose'  Maynard's Winegums advert, circa 1991, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere were already spiralling up towards the high 300's where we now find ourselves.

Over the period 1950 - 2000 many in the increasingly affluent West entered into a brave new world, from which we are yet to exit - an era of fossil fuelled consumption catalysed by adverts, such as this, for the Ford Freedom. As the lady says, before they owned two cars 'I couldn't get out and shop' - 'It's a whole new way of life'.

Yes, suddenly anything was possible and anybody could and should own an inefficient fridge capable of holding '49 pounds of food'. This Pearl and Dean compilation makes for good watching - highlighting the rise of new markets in luxury products - The Rimmel and Supersoft beauty products, the Choc Ices, the Cordial - this was the birth of aspiration, not for the good life (as sold) but the good stuff.

After a brief period during the 60'/70's when some people took LSD, got worried about the cold war, marched for civil rights and generally did some world changing from the comfort of a music festival then wore flares, people got back to the serious business of consuming as much as possible and in the process underpinning the continued destruction of the planet's ecosystems. I'm recklessly paraphrasing history here and not necessarily attaching any blame to you crazy 50's cats.

Product of that generation are the kids born into a world already locked into climatic change and a consumption culture that has come to drive so much of our social interaction and shaped our culture so profoundly. I grew up, surrounded by the home comforts of the 50's, 60's and 70's and exposed to dog-eat-dog wealth aspiration of the 1980's - Alan Wicker and Rowan Atkinson selling me credit-fuelled dreams of fossil fuelled overseas travel. Just look where all that got us!

Simultaneously, at school and sometimes via the media, noteably Newsround, I was learning of the Greenhouse effect, global warming and the hole in the ozone layer. I do remember feeling that the world was in great danger - that if we were stuck in a greenhouse, we needed to get out.

We've carried on as usual though - many of my peers have consumed, travelled and disregarded the planet more than any prior generation during their brief time on earth. I include myself in this category. We've grown up in a world where it's easy to carry on regardless, even though the science we've seen from our formative years has told us we face a problem.

We're the first generation that's lived through the emergence of the mainstream climate change debate and the information age. We're connected on facebook and by email, by mobile phones and through online media: virtually. But we're largely disconnected from the decisions that shape our future. We turnout in the 30-40%s at a general election and we have never marched, on mass-scale, in unison on any issue of significance.

Yet, as leaders meet in Poznan, as Adair Turner publishes his climate change commission report and as today the Climate Change Commission in Wales meets again - all of those top tables are dominated by the middle-aged. If you're under 40 and you are influencing the climate change debate - how to achieve a technological, logistical and cultural shift unlike any previous, you are very much in a minority. The rest of us are spoken for, by a generation who may live to see us fail on emission reduction targets but will by that point have a less immdeiate concern as to the consequences of that failure.

We've all been part of the problem, at different times - we must all shape the solutions. Achieving a sustainable world or Wales will never succeed if we populate decision making arenas only with those whose age and experience qualifies them for senior roles: They have no more to offer than the next person to be born and much less to lose.

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