(NOTE to readers) Be sure to see the Pickles cartoon at the end of this editorial.

Global warming of the earth’s atmosphere has been attributed to increases in the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide emissions that have resulted from the burning of fossil fuels. Land use activities, such as tropical deforestation (such forests were once referred to as the “lungs of the earth”) are also contributing to the amount of CO2 that stays in the atmosphere.

Global warming and tropical deforestation are “creeping” environmental changes, where today’s CO2 levels are like yesterday’s and tomorrow’s levels will be like today’s. Like the frog in the boiling water analogy, there is no hard and fast indicator for when a dangerous threshold has been crossed with regard to greenhouse gas levels, but once it has been crossed, major irreversible adverse changes are expected to occur. At that point major environmental troubles for society become visible and, with the benefits of hindsight, become attributable to a major change in the earth’s climate. For example, though scientists tell us there will be more extremes, it is hard to see that from day to day. Even under ‘normal’ climate conditions, one must keep in mind that record-breaking climate and weather events are occurring somewhere on the globe every year.

It appears that NO GOVERNMENT DEALS WELL IN ADVANCE OF A CREEPING ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE, UNTIL A CRISIS HAS EMERGED BUT BY THEN IT IS TOO LATE IN THE DAY TO RESPOND EFFECTIVELY. As a result, societies end up having to cope with an environmental crisis situation that is often more deadly, more destructive and more costly than if they had dealt with the less threatening seemingly harmless incremental changes from year to year or decade to decade.

Governments, the big ones especially, are backing up into the future. How to turn them around to look into the future is the challenge that has faced older generations alive today. Despite new technological breakthroughs, trying to get governments to figure out why or how to cope with slow onset, incremental but accumulating adverse environmental changes is an almost impossible task. As I proposed at the Nepal Small Earth Network-CCB conference <www.smallearth.org.np/>, we need to come up with a “Plot to Save the Planet”… and very soon. It seems that developing that plot will be up to the youth to develop, not the climate change negotiators who have become mired in detail (e.g., “not seeing the forest because the trees are in the way”).

I have come to realize, following the conference in Nepal and the first few days at UN COP16 <see earlier editorials here>, that we have to re-think the concept of “youth”. It has different connotations to different people. Teens are youth to other people. People still in a university are considered youth by still others. To many, the young are small, child-like, harmless humans who are seldom listened to until they become adults: but, is that how young people want to be viewed regardless of age?

I suggest that there be a decade-wise view of humans where youth are up to the teens (high school and early college years) and succeeding categories are to be branded as “20somethings”, the “ 30-somethings”, the “40-somethings”, and so forth. One could argue that each of these age groups (age cohorts) are generally speaking more like each other in terms of knowledge, goals, enthusiasms, shared lived history, etc. than they are with their neighboring age groups. The lines separating the adjacent age groups are not sharply defined so there is some flexible overlap.

The above suggestion means that I am … gasp … among the 70-somethings, the age group with lots of information and experience but with rapidly waning power to influence! The 20-somethings (with a degree of overlap with “youth”) are in the process of gaining knowledge, training and experience. They hold the keys to safeguarding the future. They are young adults (although it is often used, I do not like this term as it labels them with a junior status) preparing to take on the world. They are no longer youth, playing in a sand box or youth in middle school, ignored for their thoughts. They are out in the real world. They are increasingly demanding to be listened to and still unencumbered by bureaucratic rules and regulations. So, youth, the 20-somethings, the 30-somethings, the 40-somethings, and so on, of the world unite and challenge those professing to want to save the planet’s atmosphere but whose activities do not support their words.

As for those age groups in front of yours, hold them accountable for their “damnages” to the planet. [NB: “damnages” is damage that a decision maker knows will occur (and does occur), as a result of his/her decision or indecision].

As a final point on this, I would also argue that the 20-somethings and the 70-somethings make the best allies, as the former gain the tools that they need to bargain while the latter have the experiences that can be used to mentor and guide them without expectation of personal gain.

The day I wrote the first draft of this editorial I noted in my local newspaper the following cartoon called Pickles (free at http://comics.com/pickles/). It underscored the need for making explicit the possible contributions, at least in terms of mentoring, that older generations alive today can provide face to face to the younger generations.

By Ross

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