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Our collective failure

By: Dee-Ann Schwanke

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 08, 2014 06:00 am

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The Nov. 25 edition of MacLean’s Magazine featuring David Suzuki on its cover pronounced, Environmentalism has failed: David Suzuki loses faith in the cause of his lifetime.

The article describes the aging scientist’s discouragement with how little progress has been made in the cause that has defined his life. Right around the time the article came out, local high school students watched a presentation on the impending global temperature shift and the imminent catastrophic events they will face during their lifetime. The presenter gave a hopeless and frightening picture of mass devastation and worldwide ruin and encouraged students to join the fight against the earth’s destruction.

“The answer,” he urged, “lies in you. Every generation has problems to deal with, and this one is yours.”

While I applaud drawing youth into this vital issue, I was frustrated with yet another manipulative attempt to place the failures of our generation onto the strong, eager shoulders of our children. There’s been a surge of cries that herald our youth as change agents and as brave, groundbreaking innovators who will correct the problems of our past with fresh insight and pioneering leadership. Youth projects, programs, organizations and campaigns are prolific and emotional and call for the collective action of our young people.

While these are valid and vital to the leadership development of our children, we need to refrain from leaning too hard on them. The prospect of being a change agent is exciting, but we need to remember that they have neither the resources nor the authority to force us, the massive collective cause of the problem, to actually adjust our lifestyles.

We are the ones who are consuming oil excessively, fracking our landscape recklessly and wasting water needlessly. We are genetically modifying our food, killing our oceanic wildlife and stuffing our landfills.

Garbage patches in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans are filled with so many bits of plastic that the most brilliant of our time have no clue as to how to even stop its growth, let alone clean it up. Yet we continue to sell goods wrapped in packaging that is twice in volume to the item purchased and dump garbage into the ocean.

We are not only metaphorically spending our children’s inheritance, we are taking out loans in their names. It is irresponsible for us to tell them with manipulative flattery that they will bear responsibility for our wrongs.

As the world has moaned and shifted its weight to handle the bubble of entitlement, we cannot ethically now turn to our offspring to support us. We cannot expect that their passion will override our laziness. We are too many, and they are too ill-prepared. It is wrong for us to look to their potential as the silver bullet for the problems we have created. If environmentalism has failed, let us take responsibility for that and guide our youth into a better future.

Our high school students are young and eager, and enamored with the idea that we see them as the great Avengers – miracle workers for worldwide problems. But it is a burden too great for the young. While we charge them to right our wrongs, we need to face our own faults and work with them to change. Consume less, walk more, listen harder, learn humility. And for their sake, stop giving them such messages of hopelessness that they break under the pressure of impending apocalypse. Give them hope and give them help, but stop with the hype.

Dee-Ann Schwanke is a masters student in international management.


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