Monday, March 28, 2011

"We are eating the planet"

"I asked a group of 11- to 14-year-olds the other day: 'Do you believe humanity will end soon?' And they nearly all said, 'Yes I do believe it.' Our children think our world will end. It's a tragic thing. Adults don't think that. They don't see that we are eating the planet. But we are. If you take all the biomass of vertebrates on the planet, 98% are men and their domestic animals. All the wild animals in the world make up only 2%."

- Yann Arthus-Bertrand, quoted in Yann Arthus-Bertrand: Looking down on creation.

This quote is from the director of Home, an inspiring piece of aerial cinematography available for free online that I mentioned back here.

Different generations perceive ecological threats differently. At least, that's my impression from numerous conversations and reading. In a mixed discussion group recently, I found that all those over forty primarily felt sad about ecological degradation, but were puzzled when I asked if they had any fear associated with that experience. All those under forty were losing sleep in their anxieties about what we are doing to our planet. Of course, the attitudes of this one group doesn't prove anything, but it illustrates the sense I've been getting of a generational difference in how the issue is perceived. Does this match your experience?

9 comments:

Doug said...

I was at a Scotland's Future's Forum meeting about a year back (http://www.scotlandfutureforum.org/)and the chair asked the 40 or so people in the room whether they thought that they had a better quality of life than their parents etc... Most people in the room thought so. When asked whether the children of those in the room would have a better quality, those over forty thought so, those udner 40 thought not... similar to your experiences!

Jon said...

I'm over 40 and often feel ill when I think or read about ecological issues. By contrast my young adult children seem much more sanguine about it. It's me who races around the house turning off things on standby and rides my bike anywhere I can. I think a certain portion of my generation, growing up in the 1070s, were very heavily sensitised to social issues (I studied social work, so couldn't really avoid it) whereas others weren't exposed at all. Now those issues are more widely distributed but perhaps also more thinly.

Jon said...

Sorry that should be the 1970s. I'm not that old!

byron smith said...

Doug - Interesting. Does that match your impressions more generally? And what reasons do you think those under 40 would have given for why they thought their children would have a lower quality of life? (i.e. how significant are ecological threats amongst people's expectations?)

Jon - Haha, yes, I was about to say that 1070 would make you a little over 40... ;-)

Thanks for sharing. How unusual do you think that you are for someone of your age group? Of course, my impressions may simply be based on the circles that I move in.

I'd also love to know if anyone has any links to broader studies of generational attitudes.

Jon said...

Yes, Byron, it's fraught to base something like this on our own social group. Lots of my friends feel the same way I do, because that's how friendship works. But given my generation is now ruling the world and we don't yet have an effective response to climate change, I suspect we're in the minority.

Doug said...

Byron, I think the purpose of the event was to explore ways of meeting Scottish GHG emission targets, so there was a heavy focus on the ecological aspects.

I think the reasons were clear... people equated QoL with things & stuff. They had more than their parents, but the future looks fairly bleak with regards to that and therefore QoL must decrease.

In terms of the age thing... I a, firmly of the belief that you won't convince people of the ecological issues until it hits them in the wallet. I was in Saudi this time last year trying to convince them of building sustainable buildings. I was expecting a hard time when I was put in front of the client's Chief Exec as to why he should pay more now for a building that was sustainable. Somewhat surprisingly he was already sold on the issue because he saw decreasing water and energy consumption as saving him money in the future.

My experience is that those of an older generation are keen to do the ecological thing cause it can save them money. The challenge is getting people to invest more now (£/$) for that future benefit!

Doug said...

href="http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/comment/obituaries/leslie-spoor-1.1093401" is an interesting perspective I read in today's Herald. In this obituary for this 100 year old gentleman, the fourth last paragraph reads:

Arguably, it was Mr Spoor’s own longevity that most informed the passion for ecological and environmental issues that dominated the latter third of his life. Only last year he told journalists: “In a long and active life I have seen political fashions come and go, and when you have such a wide perspective, you realise that what matters is long-term vision. I am backing the Greens because they alone have a sense of urgency about the future of the planet.”

Doug said...

PS I need to find out how to post links in comments properly!!!!

byron smith said...

people equated QoL with things & stuff
Yes, this is one of the big issues, isn't it? We have got so obsessed with seeking to quantify everything that we end up reducing everything to its lowest material and/or financial component.

I a, firmly of the belief that you won't convince people of the ecological issues until it hits them in the wallet.
Which is precisely what I mean. Do we really think that people are unable to comprehend anything other than pounds and pence, or don't have any desires that can't be expressed in fiscal terms? We assume this is the case with love, and for some perhaps for faith, but these are "safely" kept in the private sphere. When we go out in public, the only language we allow ourselves to speak begins with a money symbol. I don't deny the power of the profit motive to motivate, just wonder whether we'll actually be able to turn a profit (collectively) while trying to avoid undermining the conditions of our collective existence.

Great quote about thinking long term. This is one of the things that attracts me about the Greens; they speak in terms longer than the next election cycle (and actually seem to mean it at least some of the time).

How to link in comments.