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
Written by Alan Moeller