Goodbye 2014: 5 years to re-make the future

I’m another year older and I can see it in my face but in some ways I feel more free than I have for years, and so, younger. My parental responsibilities are lessening, our mortgage is diminishing slowly, and I have more time to garden than I’ve had for 20 years. I’m regularly picking tomatoes, rhubarb, basil, spinach and more from the garden and eyeing the Satsuma plums and the first crop of apricots as they blush to ripeness.

Why is it that we correlate youth with freedom? In many ways, the very young and ‘the youth’ are not free at all. They are bound to their family and the peculiarities of that family in ways that adults are not. They have little say over the course of their education and are constantly being told to conform with a range of social norms, from road rules to which shoes to wear to how we generate the power they use to turn on their myriad of devices. They have no say in elections despite being the ones who will live longest with the decisions made at the polls.

Recently I read in a novel, written before I was born, that it’s not until after starting a full time ‘serious’ job and getting a home and partner that people feel that they’re living the life they’ve been preparing for their whole life. Is that really how we want young people to feel? I think I was like that. Certainly in my high school years I felt I was in training for something that would come later. I walked through my high school years like they were a dream; not something to experience or to live, but something to endure and pass through on the way to something better.

But what if there isn’t anything better? What if the future isn’t bright? Illness, disease, anxiety, depression, misfortune can strike young people too. What then? At present we have a government that thinks it’s ok to undermine social support structures, educational systems, and health systems; that it’s ok to ignore the natural global environmental systems that underpin life itself.

By the time my daughter can vote in a federal election, we should have already reduced our climate emissions by at least 25%. It’s up to today’s adults to make that so.

If we fail we are setting up today’s young people for a future that is less certain than the one most adults today have enjoyed. That’s not how it’s meant to be. We’re meant to create a world that’s better than the one we inherited. We’re meant to be building, not tearing down. Protecting and preserving, not destroying. And never before have we had so much information, so much evidence, to hand to countermand this scenario.

After years of lobbying our bank – one of the ‘Big Four’ in Australia – to do the right thing we have divested because they simply keep regurgitating the same practices in new scenarios. I’m proud of us for saying: no, it isn’t ok to use our money to fund continuing oil, gas, and coal extraction and transportation via the investments you make with our money.

We could pretend that it’s the 1940s. That gay people don’t exist. That global warming isn’t happening. That the ocean can be treated like a sewer with no negative repercussions. That endless deforestation has no downside. That fortunes are made by the brave and wise. That only fools are poor, hungry and homeless. That nationhood is what defines us as people. But all of that would be a lie.

The future I see is one where we ‘fess up and say: well, the truth is things aren’t as good as we’d like them to be. People do have bad luck. Some children are born to abusive parents. Bad things happen to good people. Sometimes people are born to poverty in a region of poverty in a nation of poverty – and if we were not, we were simply lucky. The planet is warming. It is due to human activity. And it is compromising our economic systems right now – with drought, flood, and storms regularly leading to the homelessness and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people; shifting pollination cycles, increased heat waves and warming oceans ruining whole seasons of food production, causing hunger and poverty. And it will only get worse, not better.

There are big money interests who will make a lot more money if we continue as we are. They are fighting to keep their money. The poorest will suffer most from their greed, as will the youngest. Their voices are also the smallest.

But we can lend them our voices and together become a choir for change. We can speak literally – at the ballot box, on social media, with emails, phone calls and letters – and we can speak through our investments. Our purchases matter. Our banking matters. Our money stored in their banks becomes their money. So we need to know which banks and credit unions are not funding projects that drive climate change and shift our money to them.

Every time I raise my voice or funnel my money to worthy, life-enhancing projects, I feel younger. I feel a weight lift from me – because inaction is heavy. Denying the truth is like heaving a backpack around with you everywhere, one that gets more laden the longer you carry it.

Waiting for politicians to lead us when so many of them stoop with the weight of backpacks of denial and greed crippling their steps is the greatest folly we can make. We need to lead them. It is our future and our children’s futures and our governments are our servants so we need to be clear with them about what matters: that we can see a future where energy comes from many rooftops and many hilltops. A future where our local energy needs are increasingly met locally – where power doesn’t mean contaminated groundwater and land, nor destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, nor the waters off KI and Pt Lincoln. A future that uses solar thermal power generation in Port Augusta and creates more jobs than fossil fuels. A future where our wealth is measured by the poorest among us, where we look out for each other, give hope to our young people and share this spinning ball in new and inspired ways as we meet these global challenges together.

Further reading:

Do the Investment Math (Aperio Consulting “…’theoretical return penalty’ of excluding fossil fuel stocks, they concluded, was 0.0034 percent, or about as close to zero as one could get.” From Oil and Honey by Bill McKibben.

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