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I want to earn my future, not inherit it

Posted on 14 February 2011 by DavidRobertson

"The meek shall inherit the earth." (Psalms: 37:11).

Even the oldest cliches can reveal new insight if we look at them in the right light, as I discovered while swaying along in a crowded tube carriage two days ago. I realised that, while I agree with the saying, it's not because I hope to be one of the blessed meek. It's because I see it as a call to arms.

An inheritance is not earned, nor is it asked for. It is bestowed upon you. As a 23 year old, I look to my future and wonder what it will be like. What legacy will the power brokers of modern society bestow on my generation? I plan to be happy and healthy in 2050, about to embark on a couple of decades of quiet retirement, doing whatever retirees do in the not-too-distant future. However, a pressing question hovers over my ability to do that. Will poor decision-making in regional and world politics, along with the changing environment, render such a simple plan a naive fantasy?

The increasingly politicised and polarised debate surrounding climate science is, in the blogosphere at least, quietly lacking voices of those who will be most affected by climate change. The developing world isn't getting much say, and neither are the youth. There are many reasons why this is the case, and it concerns me.

At the end of 2009, at Australia's Griffith University, I was given responsibility for running a condensed course on climate change adaptation. There was a program of guest lectures on a range of topics, and the discussion and debate in the ensuing student tutorials reached levels I've not seen in any of my other teaching roles. Role playing scenarios became heated, even if most students had previously agreed that a given climate change response policy was a good or necessary one. Taking the position of someone with a vested interest suddenly brought home the complexity and difficulty of enacting real-world change.

While these served as useful lessons, both for the students and me as a facilitator, it left me with a message. It was a message repeated when I attended a Powershift conference organised by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. The message is that young people are concerned about science and the environment, and they are willing to engage. However, few have the background, expertise or motivation to attempt to have their viewpoint heard throughout the world of science blogs. That's problematic, as the blogosphere has had a strong impact on the mainstream media's treatment of climate change in the past few years.

My recent nomination in the 2011 Bloggie Awards in the Best Science Weblog category came as a surprise. I've been mixing my thoughts of science with the wider aspects of my life on the blog for about two years, but haven't had the need or opportunity to crystallise my reason for blogging until the past two weeks. I realise now that what I am trying to express, whether it be through musings on the scientific method or a photograph of a pristine landscape, is the enthusiasm and optimism of a young scientist in the face of an uncertain future. Unlike my Bloggie competitors - heavyweights like Wired Science and Watts Up With That? - my blog is mine alone, a space filled by my desire to express myself and to capture my evolving world view.

There are many reasons to be negative about the climate change debate and, looking ahead, at the consequences to be felt in my lifetime. I can't dwell on those; I only have one shot in life, and I want to be able to define it on my own, positive terms.

I'm not going to inherit the future from anyone. I'm going to shape it into a place where people can live fulfilling lives, enriched by the benefits of modern science and technology and not imperilled by them. If I can't achieve such a vision through my best efforts, at least I'll know I didn't sit back and wait for others to act. Right now, I've put working roles on hold for a year while I hone my skills and learn new ones. Blogging is, for now, my main outlet for sharing the positive view of science that I hold close to my heart.

It's a road I've already started to walk down, yet on the unexpected but welcome side track of the Bloggies, I need as much assistance as I can get to cross the line in first place against such strong competition. If you can help me to take home the Best Science Blog for 2011, it will be more than a badge on a website. It will be a symbol that youth, independence and positive idealism are alive, well and embraced in the world of science blogs.

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Comments 1 to 16:

  1. Well said and + 1 vote. I hope everyone who visits Skeptical Science follows suit, and I wish more people your age would speak up about what is being bequeathed to them. (I frequently find myself feeling grateful for being 49 and not having children, because I won't have to see the worst of it, which is an awful way to think).

    Btw, does anyone know where we could nominate WUWT for Best Science Fiction blog....? ;)
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  2. Kudos to David Roberston for an excellent post.

    Here are my personal words to live by...

    "Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

    Ancient Native American Proverb
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  3. If this article is typical of the thinking of twenty-somethings on the topic, no wonder their voice has so little impact.

    Now that may sound harsh, and I realize there is a risk it will call down a Moderator's wrath, but alas, it is fully justified, and that NOT based on any ad hominem.

    Why? Because the author starts off right away with a colossal mistake, calling one of the beatitudes a "cliche". Or was he referring to "I want to earn it, not inherit"? If the latter, then he is guilty of very bad ambiguity.

    Unfortunately, it gets worse.

    If, for example, the author had studied a little history, he would have realized that the milieu in which it was/is reasonable to expect to retire is actually the exception in human history. Historically, life has been a struggle for survival that ends only with death. Often, it has been an intense, brutal struggle -- as it still is for a lot of people around the world.

    More importantly, even where retirement has been achieved, it is fragile. Consider, for example, how many people's retirement savings were wiped out by Bernie Madoff's fraud, or by the financial collapse of 2007/2008, even for people who followed all the best financial advice available at the time; ignore the "Monday morning quarterbackers" who claim that they knew a better financial plan.

    Even more dramatic, yet still too easily overlooked by so many, is the total collapse of retirement for the Soviets, who were looking forward to a comfortable pension thanks to the Soviet system. But the inflation of the Yeltsin years wiped it out completely. Entire generations of retirees lost everything they had. Not just their retirement, everything. Of course, even the later generations lost their opportunity for retirement as well.

    The economic shocks caused by the financial collapse and the collapse of the Soviet Union were small compared to the shocks that AGW will cause.

    So it is not at all unreasonable to expect that "comfortable retirement" is one of the first casualties of AGW. There will be many more, our opportunities to "shape our own future" are rapdily retreating; we have lost too much time already.

    Oh, BTW: the "developing countries" share the blame for this, too. The article author is quite wrong to let them off the hook. For it is out of a sick, misguided sort of envy that the developing countries are insisting on matching and even surpassing our carbon footprint in the name of building their own economies, making the excuse that it is the only way to pull their peoples out of poverty.

    That is why India and China both teamed up to sabotage the Copenhagen conference; the Chinese with their ridiculous insistence on no binding carbon goals, agreeing to the document only after its emasculation. Both of them, and even Brazil too, insisted on the gross fraud of referring to carbon targets/taxes etc. as "the developed world forcing its will on the developing countries" India Times article Exposing BRIC's Hypocritical Sabotage

    Now I realize that I yet again run the risk of having this comment being deleted on the grounds that it is political. But again, there is a connection to the science here. Not to mention: it is no more political than the article itself. The connection to the science is: all these nations have political reasons for ignoring the science and despising the Cassandras who insist on reminding them of the truth. As long as this is not understood, no matter how sound the science, the political motives, bad though they are, will win out until it is far, for too late. This IS a fact of political science.

    The resulting triumph of war, pestilence and famine as the whole biosphere degrades will make 'retirement' look like a really childish dream.
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  4. David,

    I'm sorry, I hate to attack a young man full of enthusiasm, but there is very little that inpires me in your article. In fact, I'm feel sort of sad and concerned.

    ASt the ripe age of 23 you are looking at what retirement might bring! My god, man, live one day at a time. The future gives you no guarantees, even that you'll get there. But today is guaranteed to be a good one if you just set your mind on it rather the future.

    Then you spoiled it completely with your appeal to help you win the Best Science Blog for 2011! Just do your best with each blog you write and let the cards fall where they may. Winning or losing the competition will make no difference if you are happy with what you've done.
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  5. MattJ:

    I think the word cliché fits the way the psalm is used by many people (as in situations where the meek are being trampled upon and there does not appear to be much likelihood that the particular meek in questions are going to either find their misfortunes overturned in their lifetimes, or posthumously discover themselves to be blessed). Here's the three noun definitions as given on-line by Merriam-Webster:

    1: a trite phrase or expression; also : the idea expressed by it
    2: a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation
    3: something (as a menu item) that has become overly familiar or commonplace

    These three meanings are fairly close, and I believe they can all be fairly applied to the phrase in question which has at times been overused.

    Thus, given the fact that all Robinson has basically said is that "The meek shall inherit the earth" is overused, I really do not see how you reached the conclusion that he has made "a colossal mistake."

    I think your claim is at best an example of hyperbole. At worst, it may reflect an overzealous response on your part to someone who has had the temerity to criticize contemporary uses of a biblical phrase ascribed to Jesus.

    As far as your comments on the past and future of retirement are concerned, I cannot really disagree, since I do not think most civilizations across the scope of human history ever formally adopted the kind of relatively recent models you take note of. That said, there is evidence dating back a fair ways into our ancestral past which shows that people past the prime of their lives were cared for by other members of their families, clans, or tribes. Indeed, there is evidence Neanderthals exhibited this kind of behavior. With this in mind, I don't find Robertson's hopes to be as naive as you seem to think they are.
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  6. Thanks Don. Mike - I see no colossal mistake; I even agreed with the saying, just noted that it is a cliche!

    I don't point the finger at anyone in this article, so I fail to see how I let anyone off the hook. People in developing countries ARE the least able to cope with predicted climate change impacts. There are few major science bloggers from these areas. I merely pointed that out as a representation problem.

    "The resulting triumph of war, pestilence and famine as the whole biosphere degrades will make 'retirement' look like a really childish dream."

    You might be right. But I'm 23 - little more than a child. Why would I meekly accept a long, bleak future when I can try to shape it for the better? If young people take no action, we have no prospects. That's the equation. You agree with me:

    "our opportunities to "shape our own future" are rapdily retreating; we have lost too much time already."

    We don't disagree; I look at the situation with more optimism than you do.

    Billy, it's possible to live one day at a time AND look to the future. Short-sighted decision-making is a major reason we're in this mess. If I can help to convince people to make positive changes in their day-to-day lives now, then our collective day-to-day existence in 30 years might be a lot easier! The Bloggies are a platform for me to share such a message with a wider audience than I could normally reach.
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  7. If this article is typical of the thinking of twenty-somethings on the topic, no wonder their voice has so little impact.

    If that statement is typical of a baby boomer then no wonder our voice falls on deaf ears!

    As a 26 year old I look at my baby boomer retired parents galavanting on travels around the world and I also wonder if my retirement could ever be like this. Gen-Y's are sometimes referred to as "Gen-why bother" since the future does look a mess but I find it refreshing that there is another gen-Y out there who is trying to make some sort of change.

    Good post David.

    FYI there are some great new programs starting in the community that are aimed at such day to day transformation in people's lifestyles (in Australia at least) such as the CSIRO's Energymark.
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  8. I'm 58, and have a few thousand "children" of my own in the guise of my former students. David, it's your job to be positive, as it's the only viable foundation for the creativity required to save this planet for our children to come. It's also your job to want to preserve that which you currently value in our culture, including retirement.

    Despair and curmudgeonly acceptance of human myopia will contribute nothing. Yep, we're all in store for harder times, but let's give it a go, eh? Looking at the past few days events in Egypt makes me think perhaps our blue planet isn't destined to become a spherical Easter island after all. Perhaps intelligent intent can prevail, after all.
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  9. I'm 53, and can only say that the more young people get interested in our future, the better. Like most posters here, I'll be dead in 2050 (or bloody close to it!). Its our job to try and do good until we go. Its our job to grow old in body, but not in our thinking.

    Good luck David.
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  10. Nice job, David. It's always a good thing when those of the next generation are willing to stand up & be counted:
    "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
    Edmund Burke
    I'm old enough to be your & Yocta's dad (I'm 49); I will not live long enough to see the worst of the CC in the pipeline today. If I do, then we're all screwed.

    Anyway, may more of today's youth go and do likewise.

    The Yooper
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  11. I wish to comment on some of the points made by MattJ in his post above (number 3). In his post, he charges the developing countries, in particular India and China, of "sharing the blame" for our current environmental predicament, accusing them of "a sick, misguided sort of envy" that drives them to add to our collective carbon impact on the biosphere in the name of building their economies. With all due respect, I maintain that this accusation is grossly unjust.

    To begin with, and to focus on the two Asian nations, neither of them had ever particularly wanted to adopt the ways of the upstart West, having established ancient ways of life that had served them well for millennia. It was the sickening intrusions of the Occident in the 18th and 19th centuries that compelled them to adopt the whole ethos of 'growth' and 'progress' in the first place. What option are you left with, after all, when faced with a hostile intruder that grew endlessly in political, economic and military power?

    MattJ also fails to take into account the fact that, for all their development, the average PER CAPITA ecological footprint of the two Asian countries is still far smaller than that of the affluent West. And why can't Asians aspire to a 'higher' standard of living? Aren't the people of the West providing a good (ha!) example for Asians to follow? If Americans and Europeans realize they're actually providing a bad example instead, then they should change their ways FIRST. After all, everyone nowadays is following the West, because everyone's been brainwashed into thinking that the West knows best.

    So please do not cast undeserved aspersions on the 'developing' nations. Thank you very much.

    I mentioned by the way that the ancient ways of life of India and China had served them well for millennia. In this respect there have actually been more than a few times and places in history when a leisurely retirement was apparently perfectly possible, and without the 'blessings' of modern industrial society, too. Francois Bernier in the 17th century found Bengal a rich, affluent place. Sir George Grey, who lived among the Australian aborigines in the early 19th century, said that he always "found the greatest abundance in their huts". China had a thriving economy with free trade and the like, particularly during the Song Dynasty. Check out Dieter Kuhn's The Age of Confucian Rule. Plainly MattJ was grossly overstating the case when he said that "Historically, life has been a struggle for survival that ends only with death."
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  12. “I'm not going to inherit the future from anyone.I'm going to shape it into a place where people can live fulfilling lives, enriched by the benefits of modern science and technology and not imperilled by them.”

    This is a very worthy motto, an attitude towards life that has regrettably been lost in postmodern times. We live in a world shaped almost entirely by humans, but not controlled by humans. I really hope a new generation is standing up who has the ambition to shape the world, not just live in it.

    “The developing world isn't getting much say, and neither are the youth.”

    As far as the youth is concerned, I think they do have the technical skills to contribute to internet discussions. Regarding background and expertise, it is up to the teachers to provide this or at least point them in the right direction.

    I agree that it is crucial that people in the developing world become part of the discussion. In countries like China and India, a new educated middle class is arising. These are the people that should be convinced, but they lack a tradition in environmental consciousness and I think there is quite some work ahead.
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  13. @KT

    “MattJ also fails to take into account the fact that, for all their development, the average PER CAPITA ecological footprint of the two Asian countries is still far smaller than that of the affluent West. And why can't Asians aspire to a 'higher' standard of living? “

    You make the mistake to couple “standard of living” automatically to “ecological footprint”. I won’t deny that there is a relation, but it should be perfectly possible for a developing country to achieve a higher standard of living by developing sustainable energy right away (and there is virtually no limit to the standard of living they can achieve, on condition that population growth remains limited – but that is also absolutely a precondition in the fossil fuel intensive scenario) If we had the luxury to make the choice right now, if our industry was in it’s infancy, wouldn’t it make much more sense to go for sustainable energy ? Electrical cars existed as far back as the early 1900’s, simultaneously with petrol powered cars and even cars with a steam engine. If we had made another choice, we would now have a transport system based on electrical vehicles, with a power grid completely adapted to the need.

    There are many choices to be made, it isn’t just the choice between being “carbon neutral and poor” and “carbon intensive and rich”.

    I sometimes wonder who spread the meme that “developing countries are entitled to pollute just as much as the industrialized countries”. Is it the choice of the people living there, do they even realize they have a choice ? Or is it just the old colonialism going on in a new shape, mining companies and oil companies pretending to do what’s best for the population, getting rich in the process ?
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  14. To Ann:

    I think there's another critical choice we all need to make -- that between INDEFINITE EXPONENTIAL ECONOMIC GROWTH and a STEADY STATE system. If we choose the former, no amount of 'green' technology will help. Let's say we use 'green' technology to cut down by half the amount of pollution cars generate. If we then merrily proceed to double the number of cars around, what happens? We'll go back to square one. That's what the arithmetic dictates -- you can't get around it. Are any of us prepared to abandon the ideology of indefinite growth, though? Can we reasonably expect Asians to abandon it first?

    By the way, the traditional philosophies of Asia, such as Buddhism, have been found to contain much that is ecologically insightful. But of course Asians have (largely) been brainwashed by their former colonial masters from the West into thinking that their traditions were obsolete.
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  15. K T, 14
    Your statement about growth makes sense to me, although it presupposes that one's wealth necessarily equates with one's carbon (or some other pollution) footprint. Another distinction has to do with local or territorial vs. global pollution. If a pollutant stays in someone's own backyard, I suppose its their problem and right. However, the Earth's atmosphere is shared by the entire plant, so no one should have any more right to pollute it than anyone else. And those that believe CO2, for instance, is a pollutant, are likely to assume their carbon footprint should be no greater than the global average per capita.

    A corollary being that if the "capita" were smaller, than the footprint could be bigger for everyone. However, in past posts, I have met resistance to the idea, so I must assume theie are big projects in the works (out there) that will make this possible regardless of population.
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  16. Caroza
    You said:
    (I frequently find myself feeling grateful for being 49 and not having children, because I won't have to see the worst of it, which is an awful way to think).

    With GW and all the "Peaks" coming so clearly to my understanding, I keep asking myself why I did not stick to what I thought when I was 15/ 16: I do not want to have children in a world like this".

    Now, I recently turned 50. But I do have young grown up children I love dearly and I will (and them and all the rest of us) have to see the worst of it.

    I truly understand your "awful" way to think.
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