“We have not inherited this earth from our parents to do with it what we will. We have borrowed it from our children, and we must be careful to use it in their interests as well as our own.”(Moses Henry Cass, Australian minister for the environment and conservation, 1974)
Generation Alpha are the first generation who will live entirely in the 21st Century. Born from 2010 onwards, they have Baby Boomer/Generation X grandparents and Millennial/Generation Z parents. Isn’t now time for the grandparent generation of the world to use our final years to collectively consider how we might yet be able to bequeath a humane society and habitable environment to them?
Generation Jones …
At the end of this month, I will glide into my mid-60s, a late baby boomer or ‘Generation Jones’ grandparent, who is very aware that I (or my parents) picked a good time for me to be born in the UK; long enough after World War II to miss post-war austerity and at the start of the golden age of the welfare state (free milk and orange juice for everyone). This came along with it a well-funded state education, an optimistic time for scientific advance and a progressive primary education set to a stellar 1960s soundtrack.
And while, due to low gender/class expectations, I missed out on university education as a teen, starting in my late 20s I went all the way through to PhD from a start with the Open University, Britain’s first (and best, in my probably subjective opinion) widening participation higher education provider, without ever having to take out a loan.
I also managed to just make it into the generation who were able to afford to buy their own homes at relatively reasonable prices (although our older brothers and sisters did better than us, before the property boom of the 1980s began).
… and their grandchildren
Lucky you, people might be saying. Well, maybe, but I have four grandchildren, three in the UK and one in the US, and I have so many fears for their future. They span the full range of Generation Alpha thus far; the first generation who, from birth, have been staring into a troubled future in which their lives are likely to be considerably less prosperous and settled than those who preceded them.
I think it is time that those of us entering our so-called golden years (which may not yet be so golden, depending on what happens next) kicked off a discussion about a charter that looks to the future of our grandchildren, most particularly with a view to closely quizzing those who will be contesting elections on both sides of the Atlantic next year about how they aim to address the looming storm clouds casting a shadow over the future of every human being on earth.
These are my starter suggestions.
A Boomers’ bequest
We, the grandparent generation of planet earth, being of sound mind and not under duress or undue influence, and fully understanding the nature and extent of our society and environment make, publish, and declare this charter to be our Last Will and Testament…
I want my grandchildren to have access to a broad and balanced state-funded education, in schools that treat them with kindness and respect, and as unique individuals to develop their own talents and preferences; to be nurtured to develop confidence, competence and independent problem-solving abilities.
I don’t want them to be subjected to ‘zero tolerance’ discipline; I don’t want them schooled in a narrowed curriculum in order to become cannon fodder for results-obsessed schools evaluation exercises, and I don’t want them to be subject to petty, oppressive rules that deem all motivation to be extrinsic, and all regard from adults conditional upon absolute obedience, crushing confidence and emotional wellbeing.
I want them to be given the chance to receive post-school and adult education without having to borrow obscene amounts of money that they will have to pay off with interest over most of their adult lives.
Health and social security
I want my grandchildren to have access to a state-funded safety net if they are ever unable to support themselves due to misfortune, and an employment arena that celebrates equal opportunities in terms of working roles, in particular giving them space, when they become parents, to create a healthy work-life balance whilst caring for young children.
I want them to be offered state-funded/subsidised health care, so whatever their financial status throughout their lives, they will not suffer unnecessary unemployability, pain or death because they don’t have the funds to pay for available treatment.
I want my granddaughter, in particular, to have the right to choose what to do with her body with respect to childbearing, and not, with the rest of her generation, to become a political football whose rights over her own body are curtailed to comply with other people’s religious or cultural beliefs.
I want my grandchildren to grow up in a society that cares for them, and values them, whoever they turn out to be, fully honouring the civil rights advances of the 20th century.
I want politicians in office to view their positions as a chance to serve, rather than as a chance to enrich themselves, or to socially engineer society to reflect their own, frequently warped ideologies with respect to gender, class, ethnicity and/or sexuality.
I want politicians to govern their nations from the premise of what is collectively best for all citizens, rather than selling off key services that all depend upon for health and well-being to shareholders with an insatiable desire for profit, who run them into the ground. The fact that mega-corporations/company directors might be able and willing to contribute huge amounts of money to the political party in power should never be an issue for consideration.
I want current adults to work together to harness the internet for the huge amount of benefit that it can bestow upon humanity, whilst minimising the grievous amount of harm it can inflict, most particularly on mental health, with this being most acute in young people.
Most of all, I want current adults to pay heed, now, to what climate change is already doing to the world, and work together to take steps to minimise the impact of global warming. The principle goal for the world community should be the prevention of continued global warming, to minimise the likelihood of huge global catastrophes emerging from climate disaster, blighting the future adult lives of all our children.
Ask the candidates
I am, of course, not idealistic enough to think that human beings will ever be able to construct a perfect world; our species has evolved to operate at the edge of innovation, bringing both benefits and problems. But what bothers me is that we don’t even seem to be trying that hard at the moment.
Add this to some of the unsavoury characters with horrendous track records already demonstrating highly questionable intentions whilst shaping up to contest elections on both sides of the Atlantic next year, we are clearly heading towards a tipping point.
Let us focus more intently on the future of our children when considering who to vote for, and ask aspiring leaders more far-reaching questions before handing them the keys to No 10 Downing Street and the White House.
It’s not going to make that much difference to my generation. But it will determine the state of the world that we will soon have to hand back. There is still time to make a difference to the society and environment that we bequeath to those who come after us.