As an average citizen of the United States, one with no particular power over our political trajectory beyond my ability to vote and encourage others to vote, I have very little say in how our descent into a hotter, resource-depleted world will play out. This contrasts with how much I worry about that impending descent, its impact on my children and grandchildren, and its deep implications for the future of humanity writ large.
The IPCC recently posted a graphic that emphasizes the vastly different dangers climate change poses for different generations living today. Here it is:
The subtext is obvious. Today, climate mitigation and adaptation decisions are being made (or not made) by decision makers generationally in the bottom row of this image. That’s my generation. But it is those in the top row — young people born in this century — who will bear the burden of the decisions (or non-decisions) being made today. Today we are watching a very big can being kicked down a very short road.
My generation has lived through an era that future historians will no doubt consider the pinnacle of human civilization. We got here because we exploited a dense energy source that multiplied our power over the natural world thousands of times (source). That triggered unimaginable wealth, which we used to extend our dominion over the planet’s resources, increasing not just our consumption but also our rate of consumption of the planet’s resources. Along the way, we’ve doubled our life spans (for some of us, at least), and multiplied our numbers exponentially (doubling from 4 billion to 8 billion humans in 50 years).
Our children and grandchildren, along with their descendants, cannot expect any such progress during their lifetimes. On the contrary, they will be forced to pay the piper for our excesses and deliberate ignoring of physical realities. The lives of every young person alive today and facing the rest of the 21st Century will necessarily be shaped by what might be called the Four…