If you look at the situation closely it looks pretty gloomy. How is this going to work out for our kids and grand-children? How can today's young people look at the predictions and find the courage and energy to change the world rather than just continue like their parents and grand-parents?
To me, the future of following generations has meant living worse than previous generations for about 20 years now. I could not imagine how it can continue like this. Earth and its resources are finite and the plundering seemed to accelerate exponentially. Moving to North America hid the obvious signs for a while longer, but that has changed. Now it is right in our faces even in the USA or Canada.
As a teacher, I frequently talk with my students about the environment and the human impact. They see it, they are shocked, they do not know what to do to avoid making it worse. A natural response for a young person could be to shrug it off and hope for the best. It has worked for past generations - most adults around them do it. Life can still be fun if you stick your head in the sand for a while longer. We will deal with the problems when we really have to.
Although generally pessimistic in nature, I would like to offer brighter ways of looking ahead. The inspiration to write this piece came after watching the movie "The 11th Hour" which presents numerous positive thoughts and ideas towards the end.
Until now we have built our hopes and dreams based on the past experience that we will have it better than our parents. That was our parent's goal as well. They wanted and expected us to have it better than them. It is not looking like this any longer. The kids I teach do not believe it any longer and it is frustrating and depressing to many. Is a future with less really less though?
Are you more of a person if you have more stuff? Have you not succeeded in life if you own fewer time-saving machines than your friends, colleagues, or neighbors? Is it a sign of failure if you cannot travel everywhere at high speed and in great comfort? Is it really regretable to own only a few basic products and keep them for as long as you live? Should you work all day doing a job you do not like to live (obviously and knowingly) at other people's expense? In my opinion, we have learned and been trained to answer those questions with a "yes" or to not think about it much. We grew up believing that "Only growth is progress no matter what the costs" and "If it does not cost money it is free for the taking". What we need to do is to create new attitudes and allow the development of a new cultural identity. We need to redefine "success". We need a global life-style revolution.
Instead of continued admiration for the excesses of most current adults in North America, we have to high-light and cherish those who found ways to be happy and live a simple live in harmony with nature while doing much less damage. What is perceived as "up" or "on top" today needs to come down. What is considered "free" today needs to receive a realistic price tag since nothing is really free. Value need to be given to conditions that promote life for generations rather than personal monetary profits. Today's young people will have to transform everything and we need a complete mental turn-around to help this complete overhaul of the physical world. None of what is considered valuable in today's economic terms can continue.
The energy to do this cannot come from looking back with anger and regret or from looking into the future with despair. It will need to come from looking forward while expressing "Thank Goodness this time is over!". Today's children will need to be encouraged to look down on what has been admired by a majority just yesterday. They will need to shake their heads in utter confusion about how we looked at the world, our environment, and our future for the last 100 years. They need to be encouraged to respect simple living, frugal handling of resources, and that humans cannot exist in disharmony with other living beings.
And they will need money. Lots of it. It may be difficult to change our habits, but for humans to get through this pretty severe bump in the road, money and resources need to be redirected to help the transformation of our global economy.
No matter which changes the young people will bring, today's North American adults have to come to terms with the fact that the vast majority of us will not be remembered as great role-models. If humanity is lucky indeed, we will be remembered as "one crazy group of people who tried to suck our planet dry and almost self-destructed". We lived well at our children's expense - It is time to give back by letting them disrespect what most of us still regard as valuable, allowing them to turn away from the ways of their elders, and making as many resources available as possible without regarding our own comforts.
To be young today means that you will have to change everything on a global scale and no generation has had that opportunity. Whatever you can imagine may be better than what we have dreamed up. While it may be scary to walk into the unknown and you may not like the choices we left you with, you get the chance to try because the current ways of treating our fellow humans, our environment, and ourselves cannot (and will not) continue.