‘A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.’ – Greek Proverb
We can go back to the dawn of our shared European civilisation to find people talking about wisdom and empathy towards future generations. We can also look at the Native American idea of sustainability for the next seven generations ahead, wishing the planet well beyond the lives of the great-grandchildren of our own great-grandchildren.
Or we simply look at the lifetime of today’s senior voters and the struggles for the environment they have witnessed and participated in. From the nascent anti-nuclear movement with its ‘Smiling Sun’ logo, to the concerns about acid rain and holes in the ozone layer, which led to the first concerted international efforts to contain and reverse environmental damage. We have seen the first serious global Earth Summit in Rio and the creation of the International Panel on Climate Change, both about 30 years ago, and have looked on in horror at the tragic disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima. And now we are active in the contemporary struggles against fracking, the use of fossil fuels and widespread activities in the climate emergency movements.
And as those older ‘warriors’ now hand the baton over to a new generation, do we feel that we have failed? Could we have done more? Have we perhaps been the selfish boomer generation using up the earth’s resources irresponsibly? Or are we simply stuck in an economic model that is being increasingly challenged, not least due to the actions and struggles of the last few decades?
In the flow of time it is simply wrong to play to the idea of a dichotomy between the generations. It is heart-warming to witness the elderly active participants joining in today’s struggles, be it Extinction Rebellion, marches against Brexit and a right-wing agenda or indeed involvement in more politically-minded debates on an essential change to our current unsustainable economic model. There are many visible, and less visible, ways that people with a lifetime of knowledge and skills can and do get involved.
So, to address the original question – older people have every reason to vote for the Green Party at this election. We can see there is a climate emergency threatening to cause profound damage to all we’ve ever stood for; now, with the recent publication at the Madrid Climate Conference of a further rise of human CO2 emissions to over 36 gigatonnes for the year, we have reached a point where strong leadership is urgently needed.
What will voting for the Green Party and its emphasis on a comprehensive Green New Deal achieve?
It will create jobs in relevant ‘green’ industries, transferring skills not just around this country but also to other parts of the world. This will enable democratic participation, for example in home improvement and renewable energy supplies;
It will finally take steps to decarbonise the economy, breaking the vicious cycle of ‘fossil fuel growth vs. sustainability’;
It will ensure that those communities affected by deindustrialisation, high unemployment and exclusion from full participation will finally get the access and means to participate in democratic decision-making. And it’s about time!;
It will help with urgently-needed habitat restoration, returning damaged ecosystems back to sustainable and healthy standards; and
It will help people in today’s high emission sectors to learn new skills for safe, satisfying and clean jobs
These can all be realistically costed with sensible tax reforms and targeted investment. Isn’t that quite an impressive list of reasons to vote for the Green Party at this election?
Many of our generation have acquired a wealth of useful skills and knowledge which they don’t wish to go to waste. Instead of feeling guilty or helpless about our personal situation, let us feel empowered. By all means, look at the scary atmospheric CO2 increase during your lifetime, look at the vanishing forests and disappearing species, look at the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns – and then look at how much our generation has contributed to achieving a vastly improved general understanding, acceptance and knowledge about the earth’s web of life. Hey, we are still going strong and we can be proud of whatever we manage to achieve.
To finish with the old Greeks again – thank you for planting your trees, you can still plant some more and enjoy sitting in the shades of your previous efforts, now growing to maturity.