Elder Climate LegacY

It has been said, Seniors leave a footprint; Elders leave a legacy. In this provocative piece, Alan challenges us to consider our ‘elder legacy’ in the larger societal scheme of things. Of course, we desire to live out a positive legacy for our family, friends, and community. But, as elders, we are challenged today to rise even beyond that to be strong voices of reason for the greater good of all.

We as humans have the intellectual capacity to decide and influence what kind of

future we want. Granted, individuals can have different views of what that ideal

future is. The factors that determine what direction that future actually takes are

many and complex. While an individual has moderate control over their personal

future, the direction societies take is impacted by human beings collectively.

Therefore, is humanity today making good decisions that will create a livable and

sustainable future for our descendants? Is the majority too focused on economic

growth and near-term decisions without adequate analysis of what consequences

those factors have on the future for our children and grandchildren? Is economic

growth the creator of human happiness, or is there more to happiness? Is there a

greater economic purpose than growth?

I am deeply concerned whether collectively good decisions are being made

overall. We seem to be a society too focused on materialism, instant self-gratification and short-term decisions. We seem to be out of balance, having

gravitated towards extreme positions on both the left and right. The quest for

quick profits and the need to satisfy human greed is too prominent in the

decision-making process. What’s best for business appears to outdo what’s best

for the planet. As a society we are consuming resources like they are unlimited

and treating the planet without concern to the harm we are doing to the natural

environment. Too many people are unwilling to make necessary changes to their

lifestyle for the benefit of the planet and future generations, but instead deny or

push a problem into the future.

Where is the prevailing thinking and behavior taking us? My wife recently shared

with me a 1972 report that warned of civilizations collapse entitled “The Limits to

Growth”. This infamous book published by the Club of Rome sold millions of

copies and was translated into 30 languages. It attracted a storm of controversy

because it predicted that if people continued to over-extract finite resources,

pollute on a massive scale, and balloon the human population in an unsustainable

way, civilization could collapse within a century. It sounded farfetched and

extreme at the time—certainly a doomsday scenario that no one of reason would

ever let happen—right!

Well, today when one looks at the news what are the headlines? Climate change,

flooding, drought, record temperatures, record storms, water shortages, raging

fires, food shortages, a population prediction of 10.5 billion people by 2050 (3.8

billion in 1972), highest CO2 levels ever recorded, major methane releases,

microplastics corrupting every corner of the earth, plastic in the ocean twice the

size of Texas, nitrates, pesticides and insecticides in our water, and the inability to

pass major climate legislation. Are we willing to accept growth at all costs and

promote development, development, development? In the US alone 175 acres of

farm and ranchland are lost every hour to make way for housing and other

industries. Earth’s resources are limited!

Needed is more balance and moderation in our decision-making processes.

Decision makers need to consider the potential negative impacts of near-term

decisions on the long term and look for solutions that best fit both the near-term

and long-term. We need nature and what is best for humanity to play a bigger

role in our economy and lives. We need more emphasis on the simple joys of

living. What is needed is a future that can provide for every person’s needs while

safeguarding the living world on which we depend. Humans’ basic needs may

need to be reevaluated accordingly.

An Economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, a Nobel-Memorial prize recipient

once said, “The focus of development should be on advancing the richness of

human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live.

Instead of prioritizing metrics such as GDP, the aim should be to enlarge people’s

capabilities—such as to be healthy, empowered and creative—so that they can

choose to be and do things in life that they value”. If high GDP growth continues

to be the prevailing measure of success driving decisions, where does that

ultimately take us in terms of our natural world and satisfaction for all?

Yes, we have the capacity to choose. We have as humanity, the capacity to

decide what kind of future we want. Time is running out to make better, more

sustainable decisions.

Written by Alan Moeller