What liberties we’ve been afforded were earned on the labour of those who raised us and those who raised them, back, back into the dim glints of early humankind. The manifesto of most decent parents is to raise their child so that it at least has access to the same opportunities as they did, if not many more.
Between generations, this formula has held out fairly well, culminating with the Baby Boomers, who are still the wealthiest generation there has been. Though each new wave of society invariably has to deal with some unforeseen fallout from the previous generation, up to this point, it has obviously been manageable.
We’re told by our elders to be more realistic.
But what if we reach a point after which the reversal of our exponential problems becomes impossible? What if the current wave of students are the last that stand a real chance to affect enough change upon the world such that future generations aren’t born into defeat?
How bad is it?
Let me first clarify what I mean by our exponential problems. We are faced with global issues that worsen in a non-linear way: overpopulation, consumption, pollution, etc. The longer the problems exist, the more the difficulty compounds that is involved in fixing or reversing them.
This is made worse again because many of the problems have a significantly negative effect on each other. I tried to represent this graphically and my limited knowledge of graphs gave me something that looks like this:
Don’t mistake my cynicism for satire, I think it’s absolutely necessary to shed some of the entitlement and desire we have in excess. Like losing weight, it involves a period of higher intensity effort before you can be happily sustainable. I’d much rather overstep the mark if it means we at least push in the right direction.
There is a disturbing trend, both with these global issues and more broadly in arguments, for people to quip, ‘But doesn’t every generation say this? What makes you any different?’.
Despite the nature of the growth, the issue with this attempt to dismiss a claim is that it’s a kind of ‘cried wolf’ fallacy; the number of times a claim has previously not been true cannot inherently dismiss the same claim in a different time or context. Plus, if people have been right to be worried but were told the same thing, it’s no wonder we are where we are now.
What do we do?
I feel that a large part of being a student is figuring out how you fit into the world after university is over. But it is far too easy to accept the rules and systems of the generation before, tackling what is still broken on their terms rather than your own.
We’re told by our elders to be more realistic, or that the world doesn’t work that way. They’re right, of course. Just look at climate politics; most developed countries continue to fail even modest goals of emission reduction and often any progress at all is achieved by exporting elements of their industry to developing countries. The nature of change required, outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is staggering.
Don’t let anyone wield the label ‘idealist’ against you like it’s a bad thing. We are at a time when practical considerations are inextricably entwined with setting goals lofty enough to stand us on our feet going into the future. So when you leave university, ask instead how the world can fit into your vision.