September 13, 2007
Al Gore was recently quoted as saying: “I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers, and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants.” Dr. James Hansen, a top climate scientist at NASA, echoed: “It seems to me that young people, especially, should be doing whatever is necessary to block construction of dirty coal-fired power plants.”The specter of thousands of power plant protesters blocking bulldozers might be disturbing to many Americans, especially as the lights dim and the TV fades. What’s more disturbing is the suggestion that it’s up to young people to do the protesting.How can we leave it to the young when all of us are culpable for the pending crises of climate change? The popular argument is that older generations are typically entrenched by blind self-interest, basking in their comfortable, habitual rut, whereas idealistic youth have the temerity to tear down the golden arches of that cloistered existence. The errant myth is that change must come from youthful idealism instead of from aged wisdom.Morally, it should be the other way around. The older generation – the Baby Boomers – should be the ones forming human rings around new coal-fired power plants, and around the old plants as well. Climate change isn’t just about new construction; it’s about the decadent foundation that underpins our unsustainable standard of living.Most Baby Boomers lack the integrity to confront their own sins. We burn fossil fuels for fun with our Harleys, sports cars, private planes, lavish SUVs, luxury homes and electronic gadgets, while the rest of the world pays the price. Creature comforts, indolence, lack of self-examination and dismissive attitudes mire Boomers in the smug attitudes and destructive patterns to which we have become accustomed.Gore and Hansen wear blinders when they limit the issue to new coal-fired plants. The larger picture makes all consumers complicit in the plundering of the natural environment. We’re all partners in the biocide against the living earth.Protests should be launched against new coal plants, but also against clueless consumers who bolster demand for coal-fired plants and other natural resource exploitation with their ceaseless appetites. Consumer protests ought to occur in every household, every business and every government office in the land.Instead, we live absurd fantasy lives, consuming recklessly through our day-to-day existences, ignorant of our collective impacts. We think we can go on living our normal lives while the biosphere crashes around us. It’s time to wake up and smell the Starbucks!Frivolous travel, luxury purchases, motor sports, vacuous entertainment, ostentatious lifestyles … should all raise howls of protest for the costs they accrue to the ill health of the biosphere. The painful truth is that our nonnegotiable, individual, God-given, “pursuit of happiness” has become all-important in this Wheel-of-Fortune culture.Getting the complacent Baby Boomers to convert into the activists some of us were during the Vietnam years requires a return to the empowering reaffirmation of social activism. Instead, vague memories of communal protests are left to nostalgic musings recounted over cocktails in Boomer McMansions.It may be too late even for the youth that Gore and Hansen are trying to incite. Many young people today are already too mired in popular media, cultural dross and techno-blather to turn down the volume of material perks lavished upon them by their Boomer parents.So, where’s the outrage? It is neutralized by a hot car and a cool sound system, an iPhone and the latest novelty website, a blood-lust movie and a fast-food binge. Such cultural distractions trump the righteous activism that must sweep this country before meaningful change can stem the rising tides … and halt new coal-fired power plants.Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays.
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