That's pretty much the question, isn't it? How much do you actually care whether you children, or grandchildren, and the children of others get to live decent lives, or if they die horribly of starvation and disease? Because we say we care very much about the future, about sustainability, and the environment, that we worry a lot about climate change and energy issues. But most of us mostly act like we don't care.
Don't misunderstand me, I'm not belittling the changes you've made. Those compact flourescent lightbulbs, the recycling, the moving closer to your job, those are important things. But they aren't enough, and we all know it. In order to stabilize climate change, we in the west need to make a 60-70% reduction in our energy consumption. Really, it is probably more, because those figures represent an overall reduction, but we can't ask people who just starting to use coal fired energy to get running water to make a 60% reduction, while we're switching to CFs and hybrid cars. But let's call it 70%. And we need to do it *NOW.* Check out this BBC interview transcript. http://tinyurl.com/5hyoq. It does not quite translate to "we're all gonna die" but it does mean that climate change is much more disastrous than even we've thought. That means within this century, while my kids and grandkids are trying to live most of the coastal cities in the world may well be underwater. There will probably be widespread drought and hunger. And, if the cascade effect of melting the permafrost does release enormous stores of methane, the planet may become uninhabitable.
We cannot wait while each of us gets personally more comfortable with reducing our footprint - we have to do it big, and we have to do it today. We can't wait for cheap solar technology, we can't wait for biofuel algae to gas up our pluggable hybrids, we can't wait. The question becomes, what are you willing to do, what sacrifices are you willing to make from your own comfort and happiness in order to make sure that your kids, and millions or billions of other children in the world are not dead and dying in the future.
Now I know parents and grandparents. In the short term, we'd all hurl ourselves in front of oncoming buses in order to protect the kids we love, and enable them to have good lives. So, I ask you all, why in hell are we destroying their chances of life and security right now? Why are we consuming the remaining fossil fuels, the ones that may ensure that they can have minimal things like insulin for diabetics and lighting, so that we can have air conditioning and cold beer? Whether or not you have children, I'm going to bet you have an investment in the future - the idea that someday someone will put a stone on your grave, or tell their children about Grandma Leah or Uncle Daniel. Or perhaps just the investment in the idea that the planet was not yours to waste, or in the idea that someday, someone will read Shakespeare like you did, or listen to a piece of music you loved or laugh at the same joke. So why in hell are we throwing that away.
When I visited my family recently (burning a good bit of energy to get there), I was talking with my mother and step-mother, who are making real and meaningful changes in their lives. We were talking about paper consumption, and I mentioned that the next step in reducing paper consumption was probably handkerchiefs rather than tissues, and they both instinctively reacted with "ugh." Now I know what they mean, but let's be honest. For centuries, people used cloth handkerchiefs without dying. Is one's personal "ugh" reaction to handkerchiefs, or using your urine to fertilize your garden, or getting to know and butcher the animals you eat, or using a composting toilet really enough to justify the cost that we may be inflicting upon others? Remember, all of that stuff we react to with such hostility *belongs* to us - our wastes and the things we eat are part of us. We can try to pretend they don't really have anything to do with us, that we don't shit or pee, are never dirty or snotty, that the animal corpse on the plate was never a chicken or a cow, but no matter how hard we pretend, we're still killing, we're still shitting, and it is still our responsibility, no matter how hard we try to pass it off on others.
The same thing has to do with our instinctive aesthetic assumptions, which are also hard for all of us (me too) to overcome - the fear of looking poor, or cheap leads us in all sorts of dangerous directions. But again, is it so terrible to imagine giving up your car and going to the bicycle, or giving up meat, or replacing that front lawn with edible plants, if the rewards are that someday, your grandkids, or the grandkids of someone who loves them just as much as you do, have enough to eat, home and shelter.
Let's be honest, most of us who are adults now have had a lot. We're the wealthiest, most priveleged, most secure, luckiest people in human history. We haven't had to work hard for much. And we're in the odd position of probably being able to maintain our privelege for much of the rest of our lives, if we really work at it. But the cost comes in human lives. And not the lives of people who live out of sight, or downstream or in other countries - we've been doing them harm for decades and it hasn't bothered us much. But now the damage is coming home to roost. Do you want to keep your toaster and your hair dryer, or do you want your kids and grandkids to have food? And if you want them to have food, you have to be willing to give up your priveleges right now, to overcome your instinctive reactions, and also our instinctive urge to protect ourselves and what we have, no matter what the cost to others, and choose differently. We are going to have to give up things that we like and we love and we feel we need.
I only hope that we find that what we really like and love and need most is for our kids, and our children's kids, to survive and flourish.