Talking with the kids

Posted October 7th, 2011 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

I spent Tuesday in Green Lake WI presenting to three school groups and then a public keynote in the evening, sponsored by the Green Lake County UW-Extension and the Green Lake County Energy Independence Committee. My evening topic was “Global Markets & Earth’s Limits,” an oxymoron if ever there was one – not necessarily in absolute terms; I mean, you could have markets of a different nature that would be organically in synch with Earth’s limits, but that is certainly not the case at the moment.

Anyway, I have to say the highlight of the day was being with the kids, three separate class groups in the Green Lake School District – first middle schoolers, then the first 2 years of high school, then the 2nd two years. It was fun just watching the kids get taller as I did these presentations one after the other.

I was talking to them about their future.

What I tried to convey more than anything is how important their lives are now, how each one of them can make a significant impact on the prospects for humans on this planet by the choices they will be making in regard to work, consumption, lifestyle. I always come armed with my photos projected on the big screen – of this beautiful planet, of its thin magnificent atmosphere that makes all the difference between a living planet and a dead planet, how unique we are – and then what a toxic mess we have made of so much of it.

Thin blue line - NASA photo

And now more and more I talk about debt and deficits. While fiscal deficits and financial debt are all the political rage and focus these days – and then how to create jobs to get the economy growing again – the real debt we need to be worrying about is that we are living beyond the physical means of the planet. These are terms kids can understand, even when the adults in their lives don’t seem to – or want to.

For a long time we have been putting off dealing with the ecological debt crisis, but this is the debt that will undermine every other effort to address unemployment, the Great Recession and now the second one looming on the horizon, the country’s fiscal deficits, Europe’s financial woes, and the prospects for peace and prosperity.

The fact is that the ecological crisis is already a fundamental aspect of the worldwide economic crisis. Overshooting the planet’s ability to provide food, water, energy, and a stable climate in which life as we know it can flourish is one of the reasons for the pervasive economic stresses. It impacts escalating prices for all the things we need for life, and puts too much power in the hands of corporate elites who are benefiting from those prices, as we have written previously (for example).

Part of the logic behind the concentration of wealth is the power grab by the elites to invest in and then hold control over diminishing resources, locking that in for the future. They are also sitting on tremendous amounts of cash (reported at about $1.9 trillion) because it makes no sense, as economic growth reaches real limits, to invest in job creation when the world ain’t buying. This is not just about the ‘business climate’ since the 2008 financial crash, it’s been going on for decades, a sign that wealth generation is getting increasingly separated from the ‘real’ economy of production and consumption.

Just one example of how big corporations are adjusting to the new world economy, ExxonMobil’s record profits have a lot to do with preparing for the post-peak-oil world and a lot less with investing in our energy future. They are not investing these profits in energy but rather handing them out to their stockholders.

Kids get this stuff. After the presentation, we posed the question – what can you do in your life right now and in the future to contribute to healing the planet? We got them together in groups of 4-5, handed out an easel pad sheet, and they went to work creating their lists. You can imagine the results: from recycling and giving up consumption of plastic bottles and soda, to more car-pooling and walking, to cutting way back on buying stuff (especially technology toys), to turning off lights and using less of everything, all the way to perfecting fusion as an energy source.

And when it was all over, I wondered: What in their family, school, faith community, social circles, local politics and culture will be there for them to support any of these ideas, to lend moral support to what they heard, the questions they asked, the ideas they came up with? Because one presentation on one beautiful autumn day in Green Lake – an area I understand to be largely politically and culturally quite conservative – might stir up a few thoughts and feelings about our ecological crises, but what these kids need – what we all need – is the kind of consistent support, morally and hands-on, within a community working together, that gives choices like these a chance to emerge and take hold.

I certainly did see evidence of this with parents I met, teachers who were very supportive of the program, and among the small but earnest group that turned out for the evening event. Bringing people like these together to create a culture that provides the heart and spirit, and the ethical and moral framework, for new life choices is part of what is necessary to sustain this awareness and earnestness for the long haul.

When I talk to young people, I am always struck to the heart by what they will be facing as the century unfolds. They are beautiful, they are so full of life and energy and the most delightful quirkiness and creativity, and they deserve to grow up in a world that is beautiful and abundant, not wasted and toxic, a world in which they can dream and be their creative best, not struggling for survival in a time of global stresses beyond our imagining.

I know I can’t just leave them in this tragic current trajectory created by my generation and the ones just before and after me with a message of, “Sorry, and good luck to you!” We adults who made this mess and still cling to the nice lives and conveniences that brought it about, who are still reluctant to let all that go so that these kids have a shot at a good life, have got to start partnering across the generational divide to help heal this planet. We don’t have time to waste anymore hoping that we cling for a little while longer.

We can’t just take the weight of the mess we have made and dump it in their laps hoping they will figure out a way through; we have to show them that there is a way through – by showing that a different kind of life is possible.

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2 Responses

  1. richard pauli

    What a wonderful post! Thanks for discussing what is perhaps the most important topic of all – how to step into the future.

    There are some things I like to say to anyone outside my generation – mostly younger folks:

    1. I apologize. We didn’t mean to mess things up. And we don’t want to stay stupid. We want to fix as much as we can. Please forgive us.

    2. Since we seem to have no clear solutions, you are free to set up your world in the way you think is best.

    3. Be careful, because you may have children too, and you want to leave a better world for them. You may have to apologize to them too.

    4. Everybody stepping into the future has the right to avoid the mistakes that past generations made.

    Always try to make new mistakes.

  2. Margaret

    I would only add that we adults need to also make spaces where we just shut up and LISTEN to these young voices. Too many of us still try to tell these kids what to think and believe, try to provide words to describe THEIR world and THEIR experience.

    When I’m with these kids, I am fully aware that they are coming into the world with a vastly different vantage point. Unless I can really hear that and be sensitive to it, I can’t really partner with them in this essential dialogue.

    What I also find, of course, is that when we take them seriously, these young people suddenly stand up straighter and something really amazing emerges from deep inside. The culture has dumbed them down. They want more, not less, to be asked of them. They want to know that their lives, who they are, their very existence, really matters!