REFLECTION: The responsibility that we should all carry

When I was asked to write about generational attitudes to climate change, I thought about all the points of view I could put across. It seemed so easy to demonify previous generations for being naive, or willfully ignorant and praise the generation I belong to for dutifully shouldering an unfair burden. The article on that basically writes itself; I just sit at my laptop for twenty minutes and get increasingly angry as my sense of injustice increases. Then I thought about the ignored evidence about climate change of the 1960’s and 1970’s and about why it was ignored. The reason, at least in part, was the perception of environmental concern being tied to “Hippie” culture. I thought about how that article would read and I knew when I wanted to talk about the science of climate change and its potential solutions people would be able to point to my angry rant about generational inequality and dismiss me as a whining, idealistic millennial.

For those screaming about how unfair the situation is, you’re completely right, its not fair that this generation has to pay for the mistakes of the previous one. Equally, it wouldn’t be right to look back at the history of division surrounding climate change and propagate it further. I thought about how to frame the climate change debate in a new, engaging and far more accessible way – a rhetoric without an anger at a particular group. I thought about the anger held against industries, countries, and other groups surrounding climate change and wondered how I could address the issue of emissions and responsibility without a rhetoric that was easily dismissed as lazy or that alienated others from taking good action against climate change. It seemed good to acknowledge my personal guilt as living in a western country of relative excess. I’ve contributed more than my fair share to climate change.

However, with last February having disruptive snow and this February having the hottest day ever recorded in the month the anecdotal evidence for climate change is certainly growing. The more stable climate known by previous generations seems to be gone for good and something, anything, needs to be done. I need to accept my personal responsibility for the planet and walk to places more, and eat more locally sourced produce to reduce transport emissions. I need to remind people not to give up doing this because the problem was caused by the previous generation. I need to remind people of the previous generation changes can still be made and the future can only be different if we’re all involved.

This sort of brings up how hopeless climate change discussion can often seem; it can certainly seem that very little is actually changing. This leads to us overlooking the important work that is Paris agreement and the UK energy goals. For example, the UK promised 15% renewable energy by 2015 and this was met in the 2016 data; upping from 1.1% when the agreement was made. The Paris agreement is also a sore spot for many observers, reminding the world of the US’s lack of commitment to the 1997 Kyoto protocol following the election of George Bush but this overlooks the foundation of the United States Climate Change Alliance – a group of states committed to upholding the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement formed in 2017 following Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States.

I thought a lot about what I’d like to say to the previous generations and this generation too. To the previous generations I’d want to remind them how much appreciated their commitment is; look at the amount of people that were influenced by Al Gore and look at how much more seriously people took climate change when Barack Obama was ensuring it was on the agenda. This is not something young people can influence alone – your contribution and privileges are needed to ensure change. Looking at Greta Thunberg we can see that the most successful forms of protest involve as many as possible and are carried out in a civil manner. Her success is undoubtedly tied to her commitment to take a message to the right people in the right way.

I thought too about what I’d say to our generation. Our generation needs reminding that while it is not fair to be left with the previous generation’s problems if we don’t solve them we will be equally accountable to our children. I wanted also to remind them this problem isn’t new, the previous generation inherited the cold war as we inherited climate change. The world has problems and a lot of them aren’t fair. You have the right to be angry, it’s justified, but don’t use your anger as a reason not to make the world a better place. I’m always reminded of the rhetoric of Nelson Mandela surrounding apartheid and the importance of inclusion and forgiveness when blame could be allocated and the problem worsened.

Let’s all take responsibility for our lives and work with each other to make a better, greener world.


Harry Elphick
Writer on Climate Change

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.