By Steven Salmony
Our children deserve the prospect of a future that is good enough. I no longer aspire to leave the children a better world than the one their elders inherited. That appears out of reach now. It remains my hope that my generation of elders, with unaccepted responsibilities to assume and unfulfilled duties to perform, will do better than we are doing now by changing our way of life for the sake of keeping Earth fit for habitation by children everywhere.
For example, we could pay our debts instead of mortgaging the children’s future; clean up the enormous amounts of nuclear waste and garbage produced in the past 75 years; and eschew “bigger is better” as well as “the biggest is the best” in favor of doing more with less and embracing the spirit of behaving well by living more simply.
Rivers are becoming sewers. Ponds are turning into cesspools. The oceans’ gyres are swirling with incomprehensibly massive amounts of human waste. Perhaps the current primrose path to the future can be abandoned before it is too late, and we can adopt sustainable lifestyles and right-sized enterprises. We can surely begin acting more eco-centrically than we are on our watch.
Perhaps all of us have been traveling down a long road that has been transformed into a superhighway of continuously growing production and distribution capabilities, of wanton per capita overconsumption and hoarding, and of unbridled overpopulation. These planetary overshoot activities have been occurring for hundreds upon hundreds of years on a relatively small scale and have recently exploded in seemingly uncontrollable ways without sufficient regard by ‘the best and the brightest’ either to human limits or Earth’s limitations.
An improbable combination of narcissism, arrogance, foolhardiness and greed evidently blinded leaders and followers alike to the biophysical “rules of the house” in our planetary home. Far too many leaders decided not to behave like the ‘adults in the room.’ The kids were left alone and, tragically, given the run of the house. The rules of the house were forgotten or simply ignored. Despite scientific knowledge that pointed to danger signs for future human wellbeing and environmental health, leaders pursued whatever was viewed as politically convenient and economically expedient. Greed was extolled as a virtue. Indeed, the shibboleth of my generation can be summed up in three words, greed is good.
Everyone shunned the rules of the house and set about wrecking our only home. Yes, we have been making a big mess. When some among us realized what we were doing and spoke out loudly and clearly, all the home wreckers felt angry and stuck, as if between a rock and a hard place. Do they stop their destructive activities or else choose to keep tearing up the place? This is a tough choice. Perhaps they imagine they will avoid being held accountable. And if they are caught, they can always blame the wreckage on others. Or they can agree among themselves to point the finger of guilt at one another. In this way, no one will be able to tell who is responsible; no one can be held to account for the damage that has been done. How many times have we seen kids at play, men at work and delinquents blame their wrongdoing on others and not ever take responsibility for their dishonorable, deceitful, and destructive behavior?
Either we choose to turn back and begin the clean-up or choose to keep tearing things up. Either choice is fraught with danger. We might face more danger by trying to clean up the messes we made than by continuing with our rampage. Either choice presents its own challenges and threats. After all, so much damage has already been done to everything that was supposed to be protected and preserved for the children and coming generations. There is no longer an easy way out.
Although all of us are implicated in this colossal imbroglio, note that humanity is not the perpetrator of the climate emergency and global ecological predicament looming before humankind. Self-proclaimed masters of the universe and space cowboys among us bear primary responsibility for what is happening in our time. Perhaps they have chosen to grab all they can get that has value now and disregard their children’s future, come what may.
For further reading on this topic, see https://bit.ly/3rja4ba.
Steven Earl Salmony lives in Fearrington Village and is an off-campus resident of Carolina Meadows. He has been married 49 years and has three children, a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, and four grandchildren.