Power down What is our legacy

What will our chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and great grand­chil­dren need to suceed?

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Mur­ray Grim­wood

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass. For your lor­ry­loads pump­ing petrol gas. And you make them long, and you make them tough. But they just go on and on, and it seems you can’t get off. Oh, I know we’ve come a long way, We’re chang­ing day to day, But tell me, where do the chil­dren play? Where do the chil­dren play, Cat Stevens (1970)

We’ve just been vis­ited by three de­light­ful, wellad­justed young­sters. Their life­style is some­what un­con­ven­tional, per­haps edg­ing close to the point where sanc­ti­mo­nious do-good­ers and ca­reer­minded of­fi­cials tend to get ex­cited.

The youngest – aged seven – shares in the cook­ing, chores and boat-han­dling du­ties. Watch­ing their com­pe­tent dex­ter­ity in an en­vi­ron­ment un­for­giv­ing of klutzi­ness got me think­ing that young­sters raised out­side the main­stream are go­ing to be the lead­ers needed when the main­stream stops work­ing.

It also re­minded me that, in a way, I’ve let them down. Some time ago I re­alised that they are un­likely to thank us for what we are do­ing to them. Every litre of fos­sil en­ergy we both use and fail to mit­i­gate the burn­ing of is one less litre they will have avail­able to use or to cope with the pol­lu­tive reper­cus­sions. Every wa­ter­way we de­grade, every aquifer we de­plete, every piece of ground we cover with some­thing, is a fu­ture op­tion made un­avail­able.

No­body is go­ing into bat for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. No pro-bono lawyer puts time into en­sur­ing that young peo­ple five gen­er­a­tions from now can ex­pect to be fed from New Zealand top­soil as thick and as nu­tri­ent-filled as it was be­fore hu­man ar­rival. No Fu­ture Chil­dren’s Com­mis­sioner ex­ists.

One of the best things we could do to make a dif­fer­ence and raise aware­ness would be to start a lobby group-cum-trustcum-le­gal-ad­vo­cate-cum-rep­re­sen­ta­tive for those not yet here to make their own case. I had that idea more than 10 years ago but didn’t make it hap­pen and I re­gret that. The ef­fort I’ve put in try­ing to ca­jole the main­stream me­dia into bring­ing this de­bate into the pub­lic arena – to lit­tle or no avail – might have been bet­ter spent build­ing such a group. Iron­i­cally, it might ac­tu­ally have been re­ported.

There are counter-ar­gu­ments to the premise that we’re dis­en­fran­chis­ing fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Mother Na­ture has been do­ing the win­ner-loser thing for­ever. Maybe it’s nat­u­ral that the young of to­mor­row will just have to play with the cards they get dealt? I’d like to think we are bet­ter than that. Then there is the ar­gu­ment that folk have never lived as well or for as long as we do now, that the young­sters of to­mor­row will be bet­ter off than those of yes­ter­year. On the face of it, it’s a com­pelling ar­gu­ment. I’d rather live now than in me­dieval Eng­land or Ne­an­derthal France too.

But if Nat­u­ral Cap­i­tal is spent down, it doesn’t take many hu­man gen­er­a­tions – we’re only 70 of them past our first agri­cul­tural at­tempts – be­fore the cap­i­tal is spent. Some gen­er­a­tion is go­ing to be out of pocket, less well-off and less longlived. And miffed.

How to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion right now? Sim­ple. Run every bill, every statute, every by­law and rule, every na­ture­al­ter­ing ac­tiv­ity, from GE crops to su­per­bug-evolv­ing medicines to pol­lu­tion to re­source de­ple­tion past the sim­ple ques­tion: will a child born in 2100 thank us for this? If the an­swer is ‘no’ or ‘not sure’ the pro­posal should fail right there.

But it would cur­tail too much in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion. Some psy­chol­o­gist might be able to ex­plain how it is that we can have chil­dren and love them but steal their chances.

The other thing we can do is teach th­ese chil­dren as many use­ful skills as pos­si­ble. Real skills like plant and soil care, com­mon tool use, re­source hus­bandry, the abil­ity to in­ter­act face-to-face with oth­ers.

Every time I see young­sters like the ones we’ve just met, I smile. They’re qui­etly ca­pa­ble, thought­ful, and easy to com­mu­ni­cate with. Let’s en­sure the chal­ice isn’t ir­re­triev­ably poi­soned when it’s their turn to drink. n

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