The failure of the climate change talks in The Hague last week might come up in court some day. That will be the day that our children sue us for making an absolute mess of things and pretending all was well.
In the early 1990s, my sort of person was becoming the dominant demographic in the developed world. Educated, middle-class, liberal, even radical-social values inherited from the struggle in the 1960s to assert the agenda of youth. When Bill Clinton was elected to the White House, and later Tony Blair to Number Ten Downing Street, we had arrived. One of us was in charge, and things were going to change, baby. Injustices, inequalities, the environment, and senseless militarism-all the diseases bequeathed by our parents' generation (as we saw it) were on their way out. A decade of serious prosperity was just beginning, and we were going to Have It All-a just, clean, green society and a good life. Call it meaningful materialism if you like, but we all felt that way. Reagan and Thatcher were gone; the sixties generation was in charge.
Wrong on all counts. As we smugly made our way into boardrooms and parliaments everywhere, change was happening to us, not the system or the situation. It's a natural process. You acquire things; your interest changes and you shed your old ideas. Churchill's adage, "A man less than twenty five who is not a socialist has no heart. A man over thirty who is not a capitalist has no head", was being demonstrated as fact.
Looking around my circle of friends from college in Canada, I can count five or six millionaires. These are people who rode the wave of information technology-driven share markets and opportunities to amass fortunes that their parents could only dream of. These are also people who marched in anti-nuclear rallies and joined Amnesty International, and spent time hugging trees. Ask them now what really gets under their skin, what they'd most like to change about the world? They'll reply that their taxes are too high, that we're letting too many immigrants into the country, and affirmative action for women and minority groups is denying opportunity to the privileged. Oh, they'll still pay lip service to environmental causes, but they won't change their own behaviour, or slow their consumption of scarce or polluting resources. And they, we, let the climate change talks fail.
Okay, okay, I am being too harsh. And maybe there is slight taste of sour grape since my own stock market activity hasn't exactly put me in the Forbes 500. But I am angry about our priorities and how vividly they resemble the things we used to hold in contempt. And how little the fate of our children seems to mean to us. What will be the point of leaving vast legacies of cash, property and securities to our progeny if they have to wear anti-pollution masks when they go out on the street? What indeed are we leaving them?
The talks in The Hague were unsuccessful because American forty-something negotiators failed to agree with mirror image counterparts from the European Union about reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. No one disputes the reality of climate change anymore. It's fact, not theory that the world is getting warmer and will continue to do so for another hundred years or so even if we reduce our carbon dioxide and other emissions. Americans wanted the right to keep spewing filth into the atmosphere so long as they planted a few trees to offset the CO2 increase. Europeans objected and wanted drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across the board and tree planting. Cynics said the mediocre statesmen and women of Europe always resort to America-bashing when things are tough at home.
Whatever the reason, the loser is the Earth, and my children. That's why I'm urging them to sue. My daughter has already been on the Internet, looking for a lawyer to take the case.