NewsWhat does the older generation really owe the young? The answer may surprise you

What does the older generation really owe the young? The answer may surprise you

It’s not unfair that older Australians enjoyed the benefits of free tertiary education, rising house prices and many other perks of age we were, well, just lucky.

And being the beneficiaries of dumb good fortune does not make us all guilty of rampant self-interest, nor are we responsible,  if following generations are not equally well-off.

It might sound like tough love but that’s the part of the story of a philosophy professor’s paper Young People’s economic disadvantage is unlucky-- not unjust which may help some sleep easier in their beds.

The truth is, as usual, a little more complex. Deciding what we owe, and what we can do, for those whose future might not be as generous and cosy as our own past remains a dilemma.

We are being asked, and not just for our own children, but for whole other generations to come, what are we prepared to forego now to help them later--- be it economically or environmentally?

The recent ramping up of climate change catastrophism, and the direct blaming by Greta Thunberg and others of their elder’s failure to properly address the issue, gives even more uncomfortable food for thought.

The reading around this question, as to what one generation owes another, is complex, profound and challenging and there are no simple pat answers-- whatever the placards may claim.

But the Professor of Philosophy at LaTrobe University Jana Thompson has some interesting and accessible insights which helped me better appreciate at least some of the questions.

Of fellow philosophers she says: “Most agree on a bottom line: a society ought to provide younger generations with well-functioning social services and institutions along with sufficient resources for a good life.”

But here’s the qualification: “Satisfying these basic requirements of intergenerational justice does not require that generations be equally well-off.”

Yes, we need to do everything we can to ensure the next generations have a “good life” but we can’t guarantee, even perhaps if we wanted to, that it would be as good as or even better than life in general is today.

Such are the vagaries of fortune  seems like an inadequate excuse but may just be the case. Since WW2 life expectancy, incomes, material possessions, social change and other indicators of a ‘good life’ have galloped ahead but for how much longer can this progress be sustainable?

And is climate change in the same basket as job opportunities, house prices and even higher education bills when it comes to the intergenerational equation?

Prof Thompson’s argument is unequivocal:

“One of the most serious injustices committed by the old against the young is to leave them with the problem of dealing with climate change. The consequences could undermine the ability of the young and future generations to live good lives.”

So if my reading is correct we might not choose to take the  blame directly for the appalling prognosis facing our world and its climate.  But we all have a responsibility, individually and collectively , to ensure we do as much as we can to fix it and to make the future world at least ‘good’.

Easy words to write, and maybe enact at the household level, but far harder to find agreement on just what those actions should be nationally and globally. Maybe our luck has just run out.

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Peter from NSW commented:

As a 75 year old I recall that I grew up doing it tough in a broken family and survived a heap of grief. I and my wonderful wife made sure our 3 children did not have to worry about where their next meal came from and we all had a good and normal relationship with each other. The younger generations of today are brainwashed into believing the world is being destroyed be climate change and it's the fault of my generation. Mankind has "no" possible way of controlling climate change as only "nature" and the earths crust can make a difference to the climate. If you believe otherwise you are BLOODY STUPID. However I do believe we must stop polluting our wonderful planet with plastic waste and stop destroying our forests and wildlife. Instead of destroying forests to gain farming land we need to green those areas of the world that at the moment are arid , by building more dams and redirecting all that wonderful water back into the deserts together with all the effluent that is currently pumped into the worlds oceans. "Educate" our younger generations in the right way. "Don't frighten the crap out of them as this will only lead to greater stress and more juvenile suicides. You academics have a lot to answer for when it comes to common sense. 

robert from NSW commented:

Reminds me of the story of "chicken little". I bet none of these child protesters have ever been told that story. The earth is 4.7 billion years old and has seen a lot in that time which also included 5 major extinctions, the last one being the end of the Dinosaurs. In my early days ( I'm 73) climate change was about the coming 'Ice Age" which occurs every 12 - 20,000 years. We are due for another ice , when?, nobody but mother nature knows. Now this is really scary , because an Ice Age will be really disastrous for a lot of life forms on this earth. Man can adapt by using modern technology and I'm not talking about renewables either, probably nuclear might be the only option when the time comes. The younger generation of today specially, have benefited greatly from all the advances made in technology, science, mechanical engineering, medicine and the list goes on and on. As a child growing up in the 40s,50s,60s, living today is a like a miracle come true with all these incredible advances. But of course human nature being what it is will always have those troglodites amongst them who think otherwise and would suggest mankind go back living in caves, but of course they would be the exemption. So they blame everything on anything. In the end this really is an attack on our democratic way of life which is based on reaping the rewards of our hard work, something that this children can not understand yet, but their manipulators do. As Hitler once said, "What luck for the rulers that men do not think" and: "Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it" Amen. 

Roy from VIC commented:

Present Climate debate:- I feel that the present protests are being pursued by the younger generation with no ideas on how to bring about change but still use the comforts that life now provides which in their minds is provided by the means of what they blame is the problem. Since the earth was created there has been a form of poulution, it is just the degree in size that has changed. All suggestive alternatives means to reduce emissions are unable to provide 24/7 means to our present comforts and work. If i believe the papers who state that most our poultants are from elsewhere in the world and brought into our atmosphere by the effects of a revolving earth, so the subject would have to be corrected by world opinions. I am 84. Roy 

Janette from QLD commented:

Climate change, as it is promulgated, is the greatest hoax IN THIS EARTH'S HISTORY. (i) follow the money trail. (ii) How can a molecule of CO2, present @ 0 .04% of the atmosphere affect temperature?. Compare with Nitrogen (78%) and Oxygen 32% (iii) if the argument of 'heating' is pursued (Mol. wt - % mol wt) for 1 mole CO2 will absorb .04 x 44 = 1 . 76 J of heat Whereas Nitrogen will absorb 78 x 14 = 1092 J of heat AND Oxygen will absorb 32 x 16 = 512 J of heat Over the last 30 yrs the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen by 0,04 - 0.032 = 0.028% .... a rather in significant amount - particularly with respect to heat absorbtion. Also : Do not forget that without CO2 our planet would be dead!!! CO2 is the source of ALL OUR FOOD - whether plant or animal. That's OK if you want to starve yourself to death - I don't. I'm enjoying life!!! Grow up!!! Those in their fifties and below have had a free education, which obviously, yet sadly did not include LOGICAL THINKING!!!! 

Anonymous from VIC replied to Janette:

Gosh, are all scientists so insulting? Pray tell, give us the meaning of promulgated? And of Grow up? Mary 

Graham from QLD replied to Janette:

Oxygen levels at 32%! If this were true our biggest problem would be from spontaneous combustion! Think you'll find it's roughly 21% Janette, but nice use of figures nonetheless. 

Janette from QLD replied to Graham:

Thanks Graham and apologies. The info relating to global warming is still relevant ...Should then read Oxygen will absorb 21 x 16 = 336 J 

Anonymous from VIC commented:

I campaigned and marched in the streets for the Franklin River, to keep universities free, and to warn about global warming, 36-38 years ago. We tried then, and were regarded as lunatics. We never thought we’d reach the age of 30 due to imminent nuclear war. Hundreds of thousands of people have campaigned ever since, and I thank them all. To young ones, please don’t pretend you’re on your own, and that all us oldies are selfish ignoramuses, who never understood the dangers. You are not the first to think of such things. Mary. 

Michael from NSW commented:

I don't believe the younger generation are disadvantaged. I am 73, paid for my education just like today's generation. Brought up three children, no child care. One of the Children was handicapped, no NDIS. No credit cards so you had to live within your means. In short to the younger generation just get on with life. It is what it is. 

Garry from WA commented:

Climate change is the MOST important problem we are leaving for future genererations. Yes, our politicians did nothing BUT, we voted them in and let them It's time we took responsibility and elected representatives who will do something. This probably means the Greens (I know they are weird (?) aren't they ? 

andre from QLD commented:

As a grumpy old bastard, (GOB), I declare I owe nothing to anybody. I worked hard, paid taxes, volunteered in the community in and out of my comfort zone. Found my wife, had a family and raised them up. Now redundantly retired, live financially independent with our kids (now adults) still at home. Still volunteer in the community and not a burden on anybody yet. As for climate change, yes it is and will always change; that's what it has always done for millions of years. It will do so regardless of what any intelligent lifeform does or profess to do. These activists are a pestilence and should be regarded as such. Ice age anyone? 

Anonymous from VIC commented:

Hi I’m 77 and left school when I was 14 only went to state school worked hard learned more at work than school when I think back No plastic bags deposit on glass bottles No plastic bottle no fast food outlets 

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