Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What has brought us here will not take us there

I have been thinking a lot recently about the messiness of listening to elders. Having come from India, from a culture that is founded on respecting elders and listening and following their views, I am constantly battling the tensions between the wisdom that comes from old age and experience, and the ways in which that experience limits the possibilities of change and renewal.

As I wrote previously, I realise more and more each day that much of the advice that my parents gave me when I was young was spot on. I just wasn't mature enough to understand what they were saying. At the same time, the ways in which their experiences have shaped their outlook on the world makes elders bound to the past, a past that has created the present. Last week during the Union of Concerned Scientists and Erb Institute conference on communicating climate change, it was difficult not to notice generational gaps in discussions, and the frankly limited actions that many of the elders in the room thought would be sufficient in changing how the general public viewed climate change and acted on it.

It is clearly the youth that will be living in a drastically changed world, not the sixty and seventy year-olds deciding policy. It was not encouraging to hear from Ana Unruh Cohen, assistant to Congressman Ed Markey (D-WA), that even though the youth were instrumental in garnering public support for the Waxman-Markey bill that would have changed the face of this country, the youth were not present at the table when the policy was being debated and finalised. In the end, of course, the bill did not pass. But the choices we make today, the policies that are passed, the lessons that are taught, are those that we will be struggling with and dealing with in the future. We are where we are today because of what has been presented to us by the past.

It is clear though, that what has brought us here, what the elders have put in place, will not get us to where we need to be. Nothing less than the way in which we fundamentally conduct ourselves in the world will allow us and future generations the resiliency of coping with a changing climate. Climate change presented as an energy problem will only cause future conflict over scarce lithium and rare earth metal reserves. Addressing the problem so builds no resiliency. Following that thread of thought, an ecologically sustainable world is possible only if everything is up for debate.

All is not lost, though. There are some things we can learn from some very inspiring elders. There are ways to create communities of people that are dynamic and resilient, all with a deep respect for other people and most fundamentally this Earth. I am excited to write about these things over the next few days.

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