Where have all the grownups gone? Ecological responsibility

By Gudrun Cartwright

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Photo by Max Goncharov on Unsplash

Having recently had a birthday that makes me closer to 50 than to 40, I am, if we’re honest well into middle age.

The response to this thought has been that I am being silly, I am still young. Even though, technically, it isn’t true. So, this got me to thinking, why are we so reluctant to face getting older? To accepting we are in the middle of our lives when we actually are? To embrace the responsibility and opportunity of being the grownups? After all, this is what our teenage selves wanted more than anything.

It seems to me that this is endemic. If you look around it is easy to wonder where all the grownups have gone. From the pills, potions and even surgeries to keep us looking younger, to the renaissance of bands that were the soundtrack of youth for those of us in our 40’s and 50’s. From the obsession with celebrity lifestyles and reality TV (think Love Island) to the amount spent on the never-never, to feed our addiction to instant gratification. Anyone remember the experiment to see if three-year olds can control their impulses to not eat a single sweet on the promise of greater rewards? How would you do?

What I find most concerning is the inability to look beyond the here and now. To make provisions for the future. To understand that we are just passing through. That our ancestors handed on to us and, in time, we will hand on to future generations. That we are not the only ones that matter. Whether we are spending the inheritance that we accrued from the huge house price increases we were lucky enough to benefit from on a luxury, while younger generations are struggling to afford the rent. Or we are ignoring our responsibilities to address shared challenges like climate change, that have greater impact for those that come after us. Problems we helped create such as mass migration from poverty stricken communities in conflict. Our relationships with ourselves, our elders, our young that seem dysfunctional and pit us against each other, rather than committed to a common cause.

The more you consider who the grownups are, the more worrying it is. In the political sphere we have playground posturing, ideological one upmanship and bullying. I don’t feel reassured that our leaders have the answers or the maturity to lead for the common good. The behaviour of the UK in relation to Brexit and the USA in relation to global collaboration don’t strike me as shining examples of a grownup approach to democracy, or even a common sense approach to economic development. Rather, they feel like gameplaying, making false promises, shifting alliances and compromising trust. Selling untruths to the public that blame the wrong people for society’s ills. Peddling shabby solutions that collapse under the slightest pressure. And doing so in a way that undermines the public good and strengthens the power and privilege of the 1% at the expense of the 99%.

As a UK Citizen who voted remain in the EU referendum, I am hugely saddened to see almost 50 years of co-operation unravelling, on grounds that seem at best ideological and at worst xenophobic bordering on racist. The loudest voices for Brexit are highly affluent (Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees Mogg are worth millions). They are clear that there will be pain before there is benefit, with the Brexit ‘dividend’ probably 50 years away. However, it is unlikely to mean pain for them as they have the means to rise above the turbulence. Indeed, the vision of the future that they are championing, where the UK is a great place to do business — low tax and free from all the pesky employment, human rights and environmental regulations of the EU, does not look like a place that will work well for the majority of us, but has great potential to feather their nests. The arrogance to say that Brexit is the will of the British people when the result was so close. Particularly as the same people proclaiming a resounding victory were saying that a 52:48 vote to remain would not be the end, when they thought they would lose. The mistaken belief that to change your mind in response to new evidence is a sign of weakness, even amidst growing concern from UK citizens about whether Brexit is the solver of all problems, as the promises of billions of extra pounds for the NHS and other public services evaporate. Most worrying of all is that nobody seems to have a clear view of what Brexit should look like. In the face of the very real complexities that exist in this semi-conscious uncoupling, there doesn’t seem to be a plan. Those who fought so hard to make it happen have no ideas to take forward. Only criticism of anything that is proposed. The shameless running away and leaving others to sort out their mess is hugely disappointing, if not surprising.

But in this ‘fake news’ world, where we shouldn’t trust experts and the loudest, most divisive opinions gain the most traction, it is worrying to see how common sense seems to be deserting us. The naivete to think that the UK is in a strong enough position to be demanding and that life will continue as before is rife. After spending a wonderful three weeks in France touring swimming lakes and meeting lovely people, I was staggered to be on the ferry home, where a loud and obnoxious man was berating the EU. Proudly talking about taking back control, little thinking that the restrictions he so dearly wants on free movement, might hamper his ability to travel back and forth with his camper van. Let alone the offence this may cause our European neighbours.

In the same week, Angela Merkel remarked that it will only be when all those who experienced the 2nd world war have died that we will see if we have learnt any lessons. I fear that the rise of populism that blames ‘others’ (whether that be Europeans, Muslims, Mexicans or those fleeing poverty, war and famine from around the world as ‘illegal immigrants’) for all our ills will be our undoing. We would be better focusing our attention upward to those who have more than they can possibly need in a thousand lifetimes and don’t pay their fair share. Insist that they follow through on the other side of the power and privilege bargain — responsibility to use that for the benefit of all.

In 2006 the IPCC produced climate change scenarios that went from optimistic global collaboration that successfully navigates to a low carbon, resilient future, to increasing nationalism, with the raising of drawbridges and a descent into climate chaos. As we move into the second half of 2018, it seems horribly as if we are following the worst-case scenario. The pathway to global collapse painted by Donella Meadows et al in the Limits to Growth, in 1972 is the one we are forging. As a result, the response to Angela Merkel is likely to be, that, sadly we haven’t learnt much at all.

Which returns me to my original question. Where all the grownups when we most need them? The answer to that takes me back to my childhood and the Brownies. When the children in the story told at initiation ask where they can find the helpful elves that make life better for everyone, they are told to look into a pond and are confused when they can only see themselves.

This is where we are now. For the reality is that we are the grownups. If you are pondering these questions. If you sense that wrong is strong in our world. That there must be a better way if we can only rouse ourselves to tend to the urgent and important tasks of our time. Then you are one. So what are we to do? If we can stop worrying about getting older and leaving youth behind. If we can embrace the uncertainty and the responsibility we have as grownups to make things right. Believe that we can leave a healthy world that supports those who come after us. If we accept that the task before us now is about legacy. The difference our lives will have made when we have finished them. Then this can be the most exciting and liberating time of our lives. Purposeful, impactful and satisfying. Joining together to bring about a different and better way of living, working and building community. I’m in. Are you?

My quest is to help support and nurture the changemakers who will make this transition happen. I would love to connect with you to build a future we are proud to hand on to the next generation together. Click here and I will be in touch again soon!

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