About 18 months ago, I posted an email a friend had sent, one of those things that makes the internet rounds and may have been doing so for years – there is never any way to know. It was titled, For All the Kids Who Survived the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s.
I liked it - and still do - as a minor nostalgia piece and it filled a void on a day when my blog mind had gone dry. You can read it here. In fact, you need to read it to understand the rest of this post.
Okay, are you back now?
I’d forgotten about it until a few days ago when a reader named “Brian” left the following comment on that post. I’ve re-paragraphed it for ease of reading, but it is otherwise unchanged:
“Oh yes, what a wonderful email. I can't wait to have a child of my own to smother in lead based paint.
“Only being born in 1981, I am just a young'n and still very new to the world. But there is one thing I would like to say. On behalf of my entire generation, the pampered, the spoiled, and the ‘overregulated’:
“Thank you. Thank you to all the risk-takers, the problem solvers, and to all the inventors. Thank you for directly handing down to us your great legacy. Thank you because we have now inherited a greater pile of problems, so urgent and so profound. The likes of which your great generation has never seen. If only we could keep you here to fix them.”
As he notes himself, Brian is young, so forgive him for not yet understanding that people are not created equal. That few are equipped to rise to positions of leadership where they can individually make a difference on a large scale. Forgive him for not understanding yet that the anointed – almost always those of great wealth – make secret decisions in board rooms and closed-door congressional meetings, beyond the ballot box and beyond the public’s ability to circumvent them until it is too late.
Forgive him for being still too ignorant to know that no one, even scientists, understood the danger of lead-based paint in the beginning, and that when it became known, we did something about it.
I could ignore Brian based on his snideness alone, but I decided to take him seriously because I’ve been thinking lately that the state of world has become demonstrably worse than when I arrived on Earth 65 years ago.
Certainly there have been astonishing medical advances that have extended life spans by 30 years. Brian himself never faced the possibility of early death due to whooping cough, small pox, diphtheria and other childhood diseases that have been eradicated.
Technological advances, growing out of larger scientific discoveries and inventions, have made our daily lives much easier than it was for our parents and grandparents. And although I don’t see how going to moon and Mars has directly improved our lives, I have no doubt it can pay off in the future, just as Christopher Columbus’s trip across an unknown sea has.
But I’m not talking about those close-at-hand changes or even wars, which mankind seems incapable of renouncing. I’m more concerned with the much, much bigger picture, the “profound problems” to which (I think) Brian alludes.
No one mentions anymore, when we slather ourselves in spf 400 sun lotion, that it’s needed because overuse of hydrofluorocarbons and other chemicals have ripped a giant hole in Earth’s ozone layer.
It’s been years and years since mainstream media has reported on the demise of the rainforest and what it is doing worldwide to the air plants and animals need to survive.
Our president dismisses the now foregone conclusion of global warming (he’s not alone; other world leaders ignore it too) when strategies should be in place by now to reverse it, if that is possible and if it is not, to accommodate life on Earth as the planet warms up.
No world leaders step in to stop megacorporations like Coca-Cola who, on the pretense of creating jobs for the poor in India, build bottling plants in tiny villages and then pump the groundwater dry to produce sugared drinks no one needs while killing the villages and dispersing people who have no means to begin with. (Imagine if the source of water for your city ran dry.)
Forty or more years ago, we were warned of the consequences of overpopulation. No one talks about that anymore either and although growth has slowed as the world population begins to age, some countries like Russia pay women to have more babies while governments and corporations exhort us to produce more widgets and grow, grow, grow the economies.
Shall I go on? No leaders, anywhere, look beyond the next quarterly dividend and the further accumulation of wealth to the already wealthy continues unchecked, without a thought to the possibility of the death of our planet.
The problems are so monumental and so many, it’s hard to know where to begin. Scientists have warned us again and again, but they have no political power to change governments’ direction. The efforts of environmental groups, who are up against billion-dollar corporations and their handmaidens in government, amount to no more that a pimple on the – well, you know what I mean.
And the media, which do have political clout and have no difficulty saturating us 24/7 with pictures of the non-killer of JonBenet Ramsey and a movie star’s baby, have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to anything that doesn’t involve blood or obscene amounts of money.
Elders, by our circumstance, have more time to address serious issues than younger adults still raising children and trying to save enough money to educate them. We also have decades of accumulated knowledge, experience, judgment and, sometimes, wisdom that younger people haven’t gained yet. For those reasons, I believe it is incumbent upon us to contribute as much as we can muster to the common good.
So here are two questions. They are difficult, so pick just one and tell us what you think:
- What can we, ordinary people, do to get our leaders to attend to these crucial problems?
- What would you say in answer to Brian?