Maybe all we can do is apologise
25 May 2021
TUMBY BAY - Do we older folk need to apologise to our children and grandchildren for the sorry state of the world we are bequeathing to them?
I guess the answer to that question depends on how culpable we feel and how complicit we think we have been in bringing the world to the edge of the catastrophe so many scientists believe it faces.
Of course, the historical events that started the greedy over-exploitation of the planet’s resources, and the pollution of our atmosphere, began long before we were born.
So the entire responsibility cannot rest with us.
And, anyway, how were we and our ancestors, as humble individuals, able to do anything about it?
Isn’t it those powerful forces of greed arraigned against us, and who still don’t think there’s anything wrong, who should shoulder the bulk of the blame?
History is replete with examples of people who should have acted but who stood by placidly as bad things were done in their name. Why should we be any different?
Just think about the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis on the Jewish people or, more recently, what the Chinese government is doing to the Uighur Muslims. In both cases people knew what was going on but didn’t react.
Although in both cases the penalty for reacting against an authoritarian regime would have been severe punishment or death.
Sometimes it is too difficult to act.
But what about atrocities that our ancestors committed a long time ago before we were born. Should we act? Because we weren’t there are we absolved of collective guilt?
The Australian people of today were not personally responsible for the treatment of the Indigenous people of this land who were dispossessed.
But do we not bear responsibility for failing to deliver a position in our Constitution that would recognise the original inhabitants who spent upwards of 40,000 years here?
It was our forebears who were culpable; but it is we who have the opportunity to make restitution.
At a global level, should we feel guilty about the appalling lack of action on climate change that successive governments in Australia have failed to properly address for decades?
Should we feel guilty for ignoring the rampant corruption of our leaders which has led to serious breakdowns in essential services like health and education and aged care?
If so, how do we measure our complicity and guilt?
As citizens, what have we done that might have enabled such huge flaws in the fabric of our society?
We might not have built the factories or the coal mines but we’ve been enthusiastic supporters of excessive and needless consumption.
We might not be corrupt ourselves but we’ve quietly tolerated it in those who are.
If we recognised our own failure to act and offered an apology to our children and grandchildren, would that be useful?
Can a new world order emerge from an apology?
Under the Rudd Labor government, Australians delivered an apology to Indigenous people in 2008.
It was an enormously significant moment. Not the end of the matter but recognition of past sins and excesses. It was a crucial symbolic gesture and desperately needed. A step along the way.
Apologising to our children and grandchildren could be a similar hinge point for change. One cannot fix anything without recognising the problem.
An apology will not produce immediate change but it might set out the pathway towards change.
Giving our children and grandchildren a bearing out of the mess the world has descended into might, along with taking action to influence our society to do better, be a useful mechanism.
And we can begin that with an apology.
It need not be formal. Not hopeless. Not dismal. That will only embarrass them. Simply stating the remorse we feel and providing some guidance will suffice.
Running up the white flag of surrender will condemn them as well as us to futility.
We could see what was happening. We didn’t do enough to stop it. We should have done more. We didn’t.
Child, grandchild, you know what needs doing. It needs to be done. By you.
Good luck kids.
It's quite hard to believe Bob Dylan turned 80 yesterday but his best song is still 'Visions of Johanna' from the Blonde on Blonde album.
I can still hear my father screaming, "Turn that bloody Bob Dielan off...."
Yes, and how many years must a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
And how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind
Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
And how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take 'til he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind
"Every generation blames the one before and all of their frustrations come beatin' at your door" - Mike Rutherford
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 25 May 2021 at 03:54 PM
The following article which appeared on the Guardian Australia website today provides a useful context for the above article.
'The climate crisis requires a new culture and politics, not just new tech' by Peter Sutoris
We are living through what scientists call the Anthropocene, a new geological age during which humans have become the dominant force shaping the natural environment. Many scientists date this new period to the post-second world war economic boom, the “great acceleration”. This rapid increase in our control over the Earth has brought us to the precipice of catastrophic climate change, triggered a mass extinction, disrupted our planet’s nitrogen cycles and acidified its oceans, among other things.
Our society has come to believe that technology is the solution. Electricity from renewable sources, energy-efficient buildings, electric vehicles and hydrogen fuels are among the many innovations that we hope will play a decisive role in reducing emissions. Most of the mainstream climate-change models now assume some degree of “negative emissions” in the future, relying on large-scale carbon capture technology, despite the fact that it is far from ready to be implemented. And if all else fails, the story goes, we can geoengineer the Earth.
But the problem with this narrative is that it focuses on the symptoms, not the causes of environmental decay. Even if the technologies on which we pin our hopes for the future deliver as expected and do not lead to much collateral damage – both of which are huge assumptions – they will not have fixed our mindsets. This is a crisis of culture and politics, not of science and technology. To believe that we can innovate and engineer ourselves out of this mess is to miss the key lesson of the Anthropocene – that dealing with planetary-scale processes calls for humility, not arrogance.
Our civilisation is underpinned by extractivism, a belief that the Earth is ours to exploit, and the nonsensical idea of infinite growth within a finite territory. Material possessions as markers of achievement, a drive to consume for the sake of consumption, and blindness to the long-term consequences of our actions, have all become part of the culture of global capitalism. But there is nothing self-evident about these things, as indigenous peoples teach us.
Many indigenous groups got to know their natural environments intimately and sustained themselves over millennia, often despite harsh conditions. They came to understand the limits of what these environments could support, and they grasped that caring for the environment was simultaneously an act of self-care. Pacific islanders would designate no-go areas of the ocean to avoid overfishing, while high-altitude farmers in the Andes would rely on terraces that reduced erosion to grow their crops. It is not a coincidence that as much as 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity is located within territories inhabited by indigenous peoples.
Rebuilding our relationship with our planet does not mean abandoning the many achievements of our civilisation. Some of our technological innovations can help us treat the symptoms of the environmental multi-crisis. But addressing the causes means abandoning some of the assumptions on which our current society is built: infinite growth, the instrumentalisation of the natural environment and speciesism.
What does this look like in practice? Changing the collective mindset of a civilisation calls for a shift in values. It means educating our children about humility and connectedness, rather than vanity and individuality. It means changing our relationship with consumption, breaking the spell of advertising, manufactured needs and status. It means political organising, generating demand for a politics that sees beyond the nation state, and beyond the lifespan of the currently living generations – Wales has already started, with its Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how fragile and myopic our civilisation is. While technology has played a huge role in finding a way out of the pandemic through the development of vaccines, it has also highlighted humanity’s limitations as our societies became paralysed in the face of forces of nature more powerful than ourselves. And our chaotic response showed that technological prowess is no substitute for good political leadership. We must face up to the harsh reality that for all its achievements, our civilisation is deeply flawed. It will take a reimagination of who we are to truly solve this crisis.
Peter Sutoris is an anthropologist of development and the environment, and the author of Educating for the Anthropocene
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 25 May 2021 at 02:58 PM
There are two factors that are vitally important in the issues you raise Phil.
The first is to understand the situation and the second is to motivate oneself to do something positive that needs to be done.
Both these factors require an individual to take an interest in what is happening and to actively pursue an understanding for without an understanding, how can anyone know what to do?
The next issue is to motivate yourself to actually do something about what you have found out when you sought understanding.
To overcome the inertia of ignorance, it requires a person to make an effort and take an interest in what they are seeing and possibly contributing to. This requires acceptance that if you find you are in fact part of the problem, you need to take some responsibility.
It's far too easy to blame someone else, anyone else really, and subside back into the mob that stands by and does nothing but look on. Human history has innumerable examples, as Phil points out, that this only encourages those who are behind the problem and allows these people to succeed.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 25 May 2021 at 09:10 AM