Social media is all aghast at reports of young people wantonly disregarding social distancing recommendations. Images of young partygoers filling Florida’s beaches during their ritual spring break celebrations drew the ire of adults across the political spectrum. It was not just that these young people put themselves at risk — their partying created a much greater danger for more vulnerable Americans, including my entire generation of baby boomers.
After all, unlike us older adults, young people are far less likely to suffer serious illness or death from COVID-19. How can they be so selfish?
And yet this kind of callous disregard for the well-being of another generation is not limited to young people, or to the coronavirus pandemic. One doesn’t have to search very hard to find a much more egregious example of one generation acting like it just plain doesn’t give a damn about the safety and well-being of another.
To quote the 60s rock band, The Who, I’m talkin’ ‘bout my generation, and our utter failure to protect those who will follow us from the rapidly advancing climate emergency.
Long before many of the partygoers flooding Florida’s disappearing beaches were even born, scientists were telling us that our use of fossil fuels was disrupting the earth’s climate. We were warned that, even within our lifetimes, these disruptions would have catastrophic impacts. The list includes more frequent and devastating storms, floods, droughts, fires, food-shortages, the spread of tropical diseases, trillions of dollars in financial losses, mass human migrations, and geopolitical instability.
But as bad as all this sounded, scientists have repeatedly emphasized that things will be far, far worse for coming generations, including the above-mentioned partygoers and their children. Only by quickly transforming our energy economy to clean renewables like wind and solar, we were warned, could we hope to spare future generations from unimaginable suffering.
What have we done with these warnings? Have we taken the kind of aggressive action necessary to quickly reduce our greenhouse emissions to protect the safety of those who will follow us? Clearly the answer is no.
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So before we start pointing the finger at young people for their shameless neglect of our safety, perhaps we “adults” ought to take a long hard look in the mirror. After all, the harm their narcissism could cause us likely will be exceeded a thousandfold by the harm our failure to respond to the climate crisis will cause them, their children, and all life to come.
As the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around.” Or, put another way, these young irresponsibles are simply giving us a taste of our own long-abiding selfishness.
When the coronavirus emergency has passed, the climate crisis will still be here, growing more and more ominous with each passing year. The only question is whether we will continue to ignore the pain to which we are condemning future generations, or whether we will finally embrace our immense responsibility to quickly take bold climate action.
Jonas Magram is a longtime climate activist, businessman, community volunteer, and musician. He lives in Fairfield.