What on Earth is to Become of the Next Generation?

Photos collated by pardeshi on flickr

I discovered this essay on Automatic Earth yesterday. The author is VK, a 23 year old man who lives in Nairobi, Kenya. I found his essay to be interesting because it is indicative of the generational rift that is forming. It’s something I’ve been observing and began commenting on it in my post on Baby Boomer retirement. He says a lot of things the Millennial’s (born 1982-200?) and younger Gen X’s (born 1961-1981) are obviously feeling. While it is just words for now, I do wonder how angry this young generation might get when they realise they’ve been dealt the scraps of industrial civilisation.

VK: I was thinking of writing something about the age of consequences that we have entered. With the world going all topsy turvy and unending chaos. I wanted to write something about the decline of complexity, an age of payback or blowback but before I do that, I reckon I want to thank the old farts who got us here. I mean the baby boomers -and gen X’ers to some extent-. No really, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart from Gen Y. It is not even conceivable how ridiculously spoilt the boomers and Gen X’ers are.

You had everything, and you give us nothing. Now that’s a gift worth giving isn’t it?

Where to begin on the gifts that just keep taking from us. You saddle us with your debt burdens, your legacy costs. You use our names and paint little bullseyes on our dreams and hopes and shatter them with the gift of debt. Trillions upon trillions you’ve saddled upon us to save your McMansions, your stocks, your portfolios and your yachts. Thanks for that.

Youth unemployment across much of Europe and the US is hovering between 20-25% with Spain at 45%. This doesn’t even count underemployment, where the youth have been even worse hit. Unemployment and underemployment among young people could be as high as 40-50% in much of the world. So you gift us with debt as well as with no jobs and low wages!

Why do I feel like a PhD in Greece who’s serving fat tourists on a beach earning €700 a month, or maybe the Italian kids who can’t afford to buy their own house or maybe the Australian kid who was sold out by his government into buying houses that (s)he can’t even afford, in an effort to prop up ridiculously over-valued home prices. Or maybe it was the American kid who got out of college with a huge debt burden and now can’t find a job or even get a start in life because of your reckless greed and exuberance to party. Thank you, you’re so kind and gentle and giving.

I thank you also for the environmental gifts you have given, pollutants, CFC’s, methane and carbon. Dirty rivers and smogged-up cities. Dead babies and frankenseeds. Thank you so much, we’re well past the climate change tipping point at 350ppm, the permafrost meltdown will come to us, from Russia with love, adding god knows how much methane into the atmosphere.

Thanks for the making Australia potentially uninhabitable in a few decades thanks to your desire to garden your quarter acre of suburbia, thanks for ripping Alberta apart, thanks for damming the rivers, for the need to wear face masks in cities just to breathe and turning the Pacific and the Atlantic into great big giant garbage patches.

The rivers will dry, the seasons will alter, add on top of that top soil depletion, phosphate production decline and a smattering of freak weather incidents and we’re all set to have a rocking good time. Thanks. It’s great to know that because you couldn’t live without your iPhone, your double cheese burger and holidays to Florida, you have given a gift that will just keep on giving for multiple centuries.

It’s also great to know that since you couldn’t understand urban planning and build right rail and tax people for driving cars and provide subsidies and incentives for bicycling. You were just too hard headed and stubborn, you wanted it all. You still are and you still do.

No limits, fast muscle cars and cruising to your local drive-in with that hot guy/ gal who turned fat 3 years or 3 decades later on a steady bloated diet of fructose syrup and is kept alive seated, forget standing, with prozac and cialis. You wanted it all! You didn’t want to understand either peak oil or its effects on generations ahead. Let me say it simply, the world is finite. Hence logically it has finite resources. Technology can only do so much, without hitting the brick wall known as the laws of thermodynamics.

You came up with all sorts of excuses, in the 1970’s it was,”This is bullshit, there are no limits”, in the 1980’s you said, “there might be limits, but the market will solve them”, in the 1990’s you said, “markets can be inefficient, but technology will save us, magic bullets people!” and in the naughties you said, “Do I look like I care about you? we’ll all get rich selling houses to each other and stealing our kids futures, they suck anyway”

So thanks, for this gift, you used up the easiest and most precious finite resources discovered by man in about 1000 years, the last 50 have seen you grab and squabble harder than ever before. Thanks for leaving us with all the hard to find, tough to extract energy sources with such low marginal rates of return that civilization might not survive. You’re all heart and a bag of gold to boot.

So thank you really, you had a blast, a great time. You had Elvis, the Beatles, Dylan, free love, cheap oil and free money. You leave us a bitter ponzi scheme. A world burdened with nearly 7 billion people as you couldn’t stop shagging each other now could you? You leave us a world so polluted and so close to the edge that we’ll wonder where to get our next meal from. A world so saturated with debt and bleak employment outcomes, we’ll be servicing your debts forever and then some more.

You’ve sent your kids to die. In wars where rich men argue. You’ve sent your kids to the abyss. With environmental recklessness and greed. You’ve sent your kids to the house of pain and broken dreams. With your ponzi finance schemes. You’ve sold us off to satisfy your strange urges and feelings, your own inadequacies and insecurities and misgivings. Thanks a quadrillion for that! I know you did it all for us, to make us feel better and to give us a bright promising future!

Now please, let the kids sort things out. You geezers should take a hike. Quite literally, go to a park, go trekking, like try the Great Beyond. You’ve done enough damage as it is.

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19 comments

  1. Hindsight is twenty twenty.

    I did a little reading on the study of generations. My conclusion was that even though microanalyzing generations reveals minor differences in political attitudes due to historical events, people have basically been the same from generation to generation over the last one hundred years. So I think it is wrong to blame any particular generation for what’s happening. VK’s generation (I am a part of that generation, too) is really no different from their predecessors; they are broadly as ignorant and are susceptible to making the same mistakes, as far as I can tell.

    1. Agreed. Generations are simply a product of their time and there is really no point blaming any particular generation. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be generational rifts (Just look at the 70’s)

      I read a fascinating book last year called ‘The Fourth Turning’. It explains that each generational type re-occurs every 80 years or so (in the span of a long lifetime). The script of human behaviour is so repetitive that the author of the book was able to predict in the early nineties that a crisis would occur in 2005-2008.

      Understanding how generations play their parts makes it easier to understand how this has all happened and what is likely to happen next. I’m long overdue for this discussion, but I think I’m working my way there. Perhaps I’ll get to it in the next week or so.

  2. I think my own generation (I’m nearly 40) is already angry at the one above. We don’t need to wait for the next one to get furious!

    Mums like me could really do with the help that used to be given from grandparents, and instead we find ourselves working 60 hour weeks and never taking a break, while our parents jet about the planet, trashing it for us.

    No wonder there’s a generation gap!

    The concept of “retirement” being equated with “lets waste money and resources” is very, very new and very, very alienating to those watching from below.

    Just my thoughts.

  3. What can I say but: “well said” to VK. This is the attitude that is required for change to happen. It is also an attitude that seems to be largely missing in that generation (from my experience of young people in my extended family).

    @Randall: I have to disagree. Strongly. Hindsight is only 20/20 when we are not blinkered by our own greed. Hindsight is more likely to be used as a means of justifying more of the same.

    In fact, we don’t even need hindsight, we only need to open our eyes and really look at what is going on around us (as VK is doing) and stop justifying the stuff that we see. Rachel Carson saw what “industrial agriculture” was doing to the planet _50_ years ago. No-one listened to her (we just use chemicals with different names instead of DDT).

    We are still living in a fantasy world where (for instance) industry and politicians try to tell us that GM crops are “necessary” to feed our growing global population. Hello! Finite planet calling, we do not “need” GM crops or another “green revolution” we need to reduce our population. No hindsight necessary, just a bit of logic and science.

    “So I think it is wrong to blame any particular generation for what’s happening”

    Are you kidding? Every generation and every individual that ignores the science and continues to sh*t on the environment is to blame for the mess that VK’s generation are going to have to live (or die) with. Since the rate of consumption of the Boomer and X generations has been so vastly higher than all other generations, we are most to blame.

    VK is right to be pissed with us, because we have and continue to squandered the wealth of this planet, right in front of their faces! Any person who can work up a head of steam like VK is worth supporting in my book, because a person like that is capable of breaking free of the consumer culture that is driving this catastrophe.

    My partner Sam opened my eyes and changed my mind and my life. People like Mia, Tearmunn, and John Micheal Greer help to keep me focussed. VK and his (?) generation need to stand up, get a voice and be counted.

    P.S. Randall and Mia, sorry if I am coming on a bit strong here, but I really empathise with VK and his (?) post. You are right to say that generations are much the same (we are people after all and clearly people aren’t changing). So my rant isn’t directed at your main point.

  4. Hi Mia, what an interesting piece and here is my tuppence worth…

    I have seldom seen a more self-absorbed, greedy, unhelpful, and selfish generation as the one that is up and coming now. They were the ones born with a golden spoon in their mouths, had everything their hearts wanted as they were growing up, and now that it’s about to be over, they complain (with their latest mobile and ipod still firmly glued to their ears).

    I’d like to know what VK is actually doing apart from playing the blame-game. Is VK growing his own vegetables? Is he actively trying to reduce his carbon footprint on this world? Is he thinking of family planning (one kid or less)? Is he trying to teach/help others to live more sustainably? Often people get inspired by what someone is *doing*, not what they are *saying*.

    His rant is just typical of the ‘I’m so pissed and it’s all your fault’ drivle that is understandable, but neither constructive nor helpful.

    On top of that, every generation does seem to blame the next one up – so VK will have to suffer the same fate once he gets old enough. It is also important as Randall says to look back at history. If you do, you find that we as a species make the same mistakes, over and over and over again. We never seem to learn. Unfortunately now there are so many of us that the mistakes we make have a huge impact on everything around us. Will we learn? I doubt it. We will have to wait for nature to sort us out, and this will happen, at a huge and tragic cost to humanity, and I have no illusions about how ugly that is going to be.

    In the meantime, I think the best way forward is as people like us are doing – trying to become more self sufficient, trying to live *with* and as part of nature, and telling the world what we’re doing. We will reach some people, and not others.

    Unfortunately, having some upstart tell me that ‘old geezers need to move over’ really gets my heckles up. VK, young as he is, also needs to learn that trust and respect is *earned*, not just given because he has an opinion. We also don’t need more people (young or older) to engage in power games and trying to dictate what should be done. Power, once someone has it, is rarely used in a wise and beneficial manner and often makes for quite ugly human beings.

    Example (sorry for the long reply) is the Transition Town movement in our local town. Run by militant vegetarian permaculturists who claim to be peak aware, we have merely seen them have a power struggle over the last few years with regards as to who should run the town. They are so busy with that, they don’t have time to build their strawbale houses. They don’t have time to set up a vegie patch and lead by example. They do all, however, want to run permaculture courses at AU$1,000 a head. Where they think they’re going to find the people to do these courses I don’t know. We have been ridiculed and austracised by this mob, primarily because we are of the opinion that we should share our knowledge and produce, in an equal and fair manner (preferably without exchanging money, as this is a thing of the past too), rather than impose our opinions onto others, or trying to extort as much money as we can. Note that we have had to learn from scratch too and are still learning (and making mistakes).

    It was pretty lonely for a while and we were very concerned about how to move forward in a toxic community like this. However, we have made friends a bit further afield (but still local) and are starting to find that people are getting inspired just by what others are doing. People are asking me to help them set up an edible forest garden, because then can see in our garden how beautiful it is (and how useful it is to the trees). I’m showing people how to make cheese and in return I’m learning how to knit socks. Incidentally, a lot of these people are from the much despised baby boomer generation, who can see something is wrong but don’t know what to do about it. We discuss touchy topics like peak oil over lengthy dinners, trying to be as impartial as we can. People are slowly changing (and some just don’t get it at all) and trying to achieve this in a non-threatening manner and without getting angry probably gets more results (however small) in the longterm for all of us.

    There is no easy way out, there is no quick fix. VK probably needs to bear that in mind as well.

  5. …Cause the best way I know of to engage people in positive change is to draw a line in the sand and say “here’s the good guys, there’s the bad guys. Let’s gettem”.

    I am not saying that VK doesn’t have a very real right to be angry. Honestly I look around me and don’t see any generation, with the knowledge and autonomy to do so, moving wholesale into the level of change needed. The gen Y’s that are engaged, not too many of them from what I can see are extremely engaged, good on them, those that aren’t are just as invested in “the system” as the rest of us and just as unwilling to change. The gen X’s that engage, again not a huge amount of them, from a “we got a lot to loose which ever way this goes” pov, most of them are just doing their best to keep their heads above water with job/work/kids/responsibilities thus tend to be a whole lot less political than Gen Y and a whole lot more busy beavering away in their own back yard, making the changes they feel they can. The boomers well I know ones that can’t face the magnitude of the problem so simply just ignore it (common over all generations mentioned), I know one’s that have always lived a simple/frugal and therefore quite green life, I know others that would laugh at you if you mentioned the idea that they might one day be able to comfortably retire at 65 (very little super because it came so late in their working life and understandable distrust in social security keeping up with cost of living), and then there are those that fly overseas at least every 12 months “to see the world”.

    I see this generational rift happening… and I see a whole lot of blaming and not a whole lot of taking personal responsibility. From my POV we all need to grow the F#### up, take responsibility for every single one of our own actions and build community not pull it apart with generational divides. Blame is a luxury we simply can’t afford.

    Kind Regards
    Belinda

  6. @tearmunn: my brother is of generation X and he and his friends seem typical of their generation. Nothing I can do ever seems to excite or motivate him (let alone engage him). I suppose that this is why VK’s post speaks to me. He is a young person who sounds like he is on fire, which is such a rare thing.

    I would be very interested to know if VK is doing more than just venting. I couldn’t easily tell from the original article.

    1. Uhmmm I am genX as well 🙂 Having said that, I know plenty of people of my age who are apathetic, and work very well in the current (flawed) system. They look at what I am doing, and wonder where I get the energy/drive/motivation from. It’s within you or not, I suppose. A lot of people say “I could never do what you’re doing”, but they haven’t even tried. Btw these are also of older, younger and the same generation.

      I can see your point about VK – at least he is aware enough to say something and have some passion – unfortunately everything he says comes across as angry and there is not much in the shape of solutions – apart from that he thinks older people should take a hike.

      1. Woops, I got that wrong. My brother is generation Y (about 14 years younger than me!), I am generation X like you 🙂

        The question is: are members of generation Y like VK and my brother even less motivated than our generation (due to extreme pampering)?

        Or it is partly apathy due to the state of the economy, lack of employment opportunity (my brother wraps cabbages on minimum wage for a living, despite being well read and intelligent) and the state of the environment. It must look pretty bleak from their perspective (it’s certainly bleak from mine!).

        VK makes an interesting subject since he really does stand out from the crowd in his generation.

  7. All a very interesting thread and VK is as you say in an abstract way “an interesting subject” if he is representative of generation Y. The blame game is passe and we are so beyond it that I have little time or energy to waste on a specific generation. All these labels that help put us all in little boxes – I won’t be called Xor Y or baby boomer. I am old enough to have heard the beatles, young enough to have worked in the fields over the weekend tending our crops and climbed a mountain yesterday simply to experience the joy of having my legs burn and heart beat a little faster than usual.

    In all groups there are people who do and people who talk about or complain when they don’t have. Sorry but VK is simply winging about the fact he won’t get what he considers his fair share. When we first became really peak aware about 3 years ago after a viewing of crude awakening to which we were invited by one of our friends who was the south east asia manager of a major geology exploration company it was an epiphany when his 20 year old son said he was going to get his V6 car earlier so he could do his speeding whilst he still could.

    It is simply VK feels cheated out of his share of the plunder. It is an anger that he won’t get what he sees as his fair share. There is no consideration or moral highground to take since if he could he would have it.

    VK needs to learn “needs are few, wants are many and learned”. Generation Y [ if we really do have to resort to labels but I think it also applies to XYZ and the rest of the alphabet] has to learn they are owed nothing, everything has to be earned and the mistakes of the past are a result of ignorance which generation Y despite easy access to information is repeating.

    Don’t get angry, just chnage your own life and lead by example, detach that bloody mobile from your ear, switch off the computer and go and talk to some real people not your facebook “friends”. Start reducing your own impact and living more simply since then the change to a post carbon economy when it comes in the next few years will be less painful.

    VK should learn like all of us not to be part of the problem, anger is not a positive contribution to this issue and is simply a waste of your own limited personal resources.

    1. Peter, you are making a big assumption here about VK. You may be right that VK is just upset about not getting what everyone else has. But then again, you may not be (unless you have other information about him). He may also have changed his life (or never even had a life of consumption, given that he lives in Kenya), we can’t know either way. So dismissing his anger is in my opinion wrong.

      What I heard in VK’s story was a person pissed-off beyond endurance by a society that is leaving his generation a trashed environment and mountains of debt, that he personally and his peers will have to deal with.

      I don’t see anywhere VK saying “I deserve to have an affluent lifestyle”. What I do see is the very clear message that VK (and the generations that come after him) are afraid that they may have _no_ lifestyle at all, just a toxic misery of environment and/or economy.

      Angry? You bet. Just like I was yesterday when I found that the tenants in the house that I maintain had failed to report a water leak, so now the kitchen cabinets all need to be pulled out and replaced.

      They new there was a problem. They did nothing about it (not even tell me). Now I pay the price. Sound familiar? More anger voiced loudly won’t hurt and it may help.

      1. I don’t know… I find anger such a negative way of getting rid of your energy. I have been angry too, I’ve been upset, I’ve felt overwhelmed with what we’re facing and by the looks of it so has everybody else on this list. But in the end, you’ve got to actually do something, like someone else already said, take personal responsibility.

        Where I find VK an annoying upstart is that he blames everybody else and tells them to take a hike. So far, everything I’ve learned in the way of old skills, has been from older people, not younger, and these people have been very willing and happy to part with their knowledge. It is quite arrogant and ignorant to dismiss what someone else (someone older) can offer you. Not everybody fits into VK’s useless over the hill category.

        In the end, the responsibility to make change can only start with yourself – unfortunately there are not enough of us (yet?) for self sufficiency to become more noticable and mainstream so that others take it up too.

        So yes, be angry, but then move on and channel all that energy into growing vegetables. I can’t begin to tell you how much pleasure and satisfaction it has given me to see our own produce come up, let alone how much better it all tastes. I’m sure others will have had that same ‘revelation’.

        Where I see a problem with someone who is this angry and nothing else, is that when TSHTF, that kind of person (or if they group together) would be the kind that gets jealous of others who do still have food/water/animals, and sees it as his right to ‘take’, because he’s been so hard done by. Regardless of whether people have worked hard to grow their vegies etc etc.

        I may be completely wrong about him as indeed no one knows the person, but unfortunately the only thing to go by is this furious rant of his, and I don’t see a compromising person behind it who is willing to actually make a positive change.

  8. I’m Gen X, and I’d say I’m as angry as VK – but VK’s sarcastic bile clearly isn’t winning many friends or positively influencing people.

    My anger is more like Derrick Jensen’s anger. In other words, I’m about as pessimistic as it’s possible to be, and I quite enjoy chatting about sabotaging the corner-stones of our industrial civilisation. But so far, it’s all talk.

    In any case, I see anger as being at least one big step up from ignorance and/or apathy – both of which are still terribly pervasive in our society, across all age brackets.

    My belief is that collapse will come along and utterly destroy life as we know it, and *most* people will *never* figure out what the heck actually happened.

    Whatever the consequences are, I think most people will simply blame their favourite scapegoat: they’ll believe it was the bankers’ fault; or the greenie conspirators; or liberal politicians; or conservative politicians; or immigrants; or Baby Boomers; or Generation Y; or Darwin; or Muslims; or perhaps it was God’s will … the list of handy scapegoats is practically endless.

    Overpopulation, climate change, and peak oil are too often viewed as somebody else’s *fault*, and somebody else’s *problem*. So few people are willing to take enough responsibility to actually change any aspect of their own lives (present company excepted).

    Meanwhile, many of my Gen X friends on Facebook are busy having babies (one just had #3, another is about to have #4) – and many of them come to me looking for praise when they make “green” choices such as buying cloth nappies.

    So, yeah, I’m angry. Angry enough to Go Postal one day? Who the f*ck knows!

  9. LS,
    I don’t think generations, or even individuals, are purposely ignoring science and “shi**** on the environment”. Some are, undoubtedly. However, understanding the way institutions like the government and mass media operate is instructive. The elites who run society are well aware of what they are doing: destroying the planet, and coming dangerously close to annihilating the species. However, their jobs depend on maintaining the status quo; and if they don’t do it, someone else will. These forces operate on society from the top officials down to the general public. It’s the called indoctrination.

    Individuals have been aware of the destructive forces of modern industrial society for at least one hundred years. That doesn’t mean the general public has, or that any particular generation was any more aware of the world crisis than another. Again, I don’t think any sane person would “ignore” the science available to us. The problem is that the science ISN’T generally available at all. The doctrinal system [schools, mass media, etc.] prevents the public from being aware of the extent of the world crisis. These issues are hard for the average person to learn about because they aren’t on TV, they aren’t acknowledged by the government, and there’s an entire public relations industry to divert the public’s attention from issues of survival.

    1. Randall, I can only agree with you that there is huge pressure from media and government and education for business as usual. I suppose that this is why VK is a breath of fresh air to me. One more person has woken up and broken the mental shackles 🙂

      As noted by others in this comment thread though, it’s what you do that counts. Here’s hoping that VK can follow through.

  10. Wow. I’m not quite sure what to say. I understand where VK is coming from but I have to ask the question ‘what are you doing about it other than blaming the rest of the world.’

    I don’t see ‘the older’ generations with the iphones glued to their ears nor do I see them hooning down the road in their hotted up cars. A majority of younger people I speak to couldn’t care less about the way the world is going, they are too busy having a good time. Funny thing, that’s exactly the same attitude that Gen X had, the Baby Boomers and probably every other previous generation. So please, don’t be so quick to point fingers and make accusations.

    There are no innocents in this story, we are all responsible in one way or another. It’s what we do now, in light of what we have learned that counts.

    I’m angry at the people from the past with their blind trust, I’m angry at the people from the present because of their lack of action despite all that they now know. I’m angry at those who willingly hid the truth and manipulated the world for their own financial gains. Most of all I’m angry because those who had no say and did not contribute to this mess will have to pay the price, the future generations.

  11. I couldn’t care less about ‘generations’ and the labelling that has been applied… I am 35, but have no idea which ‘generation’ that makes me. People who are actively trying to make changes, who are trying to make a difference… they come in all shapes, forms, cultures… and ages. Blame and anger may have their place, but it’s a tiny, tiny place, somewhere at the start of our journey, and should only serve to spark thoughts on, “How do I make this better?” and “What am I doing that I can change?” and “How can I improve the future generations that will come after me, so they aren’t in the same position I find myself?”

  12. I recently read an interesting article by Raj Patel titled “What Food Riots Really Are”.

    Patel writes: “We see hunger throughout the world, but we see the *riots*, we see the *protests* when there’s a sudden increase in the gap between what people believe is their right and what they’re able to afford. This expectations gap is an integral part of the idea of a food riot.”

    I guess we could all argue forever about whether VK’s complaints are justified or not. But in the end, does it make any difference? If people get angry, and eventually violent, when they *feel* they’ve been unfairly treated, does telling them they’re “just whinging” improve the situation?

    I suspect that everyone commenting here (myself included) takes more than is technically their fair share of the planet’s resources. Using the numbers in Jim Merkel’s book, “Radical Simplicity”: with the world’s current population, each person’s fair share of productive land is about 4 acres.

    Using Merkel’s book, I’ve calculated that I use about 3 times my fair share – yet my ecological footprint is less than half that of the average Australian.

    And even though I’ve already got more than my fair share, I’m not about to give up what I’ve got, and I still get angry when I feel that I’ve been treated unfairly. (There’s a certain town planner whose outrageously unfair behaviour destroyed my dreams and my savings, and the fact that I now live illegally in a windowless shed with no running water makes me angry every time I can’t turn on the tap. Carrying water to the vegie garden is a daily reminder of what I’ve lost – even though I’m very well aware that I’m still *much* better off than most of the humans on the planet).

    Dixiebelle makes the point that anger should only be used to spark thought and action. But – in all seriousness – what actions can the person with no material resources realistically take?

    To a person with nothing, complaining and violence and theft might be regarded as a rational and active response.

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