Power down What is our legacy
What will our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren need to suceed?
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