To the young people in my life

I am one of the privileged of the last few generations who has been able to say “yes” to everything – more travel, more space, more clothes, more style, more equipment and gear and kitchen appliances, more food, more convenience, more education, more experience, more individuality.  

Have we ever stopped to say “no more”? That’s always seemed difficult to do – more is addictive. Breaking habits is uncomfortable, and it’s inconvenient and boring to slow down. We might lose the hard-earned status of being a fellow consumer in our social group.  We have always been schooled and cajoled to spend in order to create more jobs, and have raised our kids believing in the best and the latest.

We have been seduced by our comfortable lives into becoming the roaring engine of the global economic system that constantly demands more. There are reasons why we behave as we do, but this does not diminish the fact that we are damaging our planet. Victim and perpetrator.

How the idea evolved

My teenagers have instigated and driven most of the steps that we have taken as a family towards climate friendly behaviour over the last few years. In the process, I felt the need to apologise to them for not having done so years earlier. I deeply regret not listening to the science decades ago. Hence, the idea of an intergenerational apology for climate change.

An apology makes me confront the gravity of what I have done – and not done – to those I love and am responsible for.

It enables me to empathize with their grave concerns about the future. In doing so, it brings climate change directly into my home and crystalizes the connection between it and my personal decisions around consumption and political engagement.

Most importantly, an effective apology requires me to make amends for the harm I have done to them. I have to take the steps necessary to help them manage their fears by finally adopting the pro-environmental behaviours required for climate mitigation and adaptation.

And so it is no longer ‘I’ but ‘we’, doing what is within our power to limit climate change. And the ‘we’ can grow as other family members and friends join in. An apology requires a change in behaviour. And so this intergenerational apology requires that we drastically reduce our consumption across the board and that we vote for and demand that our governments enact the laws required for climate mitigation.

What it is

The intergenerational climate apology is proposed as an intervention to encourage people to reduce their consumption and vote for effective mitigation measures based on their love and responsibility for the young people in their lives.

Personal and political apologies have long been used to repair divisions and facilitate social transitions. The apology process is appropriate for the climate crisis – it requires recognition of the seriousness of the situation, empathy for those who will shoulder the heaviest burden and a commitment to change the behaviours that have caused the harm.

The intergenerational climate apology is:

  • an idea to be discussed between generations in a family or social network;
  • a tool to personalise climate change and encourage us to take responsibility for our individual actions;
  • a vehicle to help individuals adopt behaviours that enable a sustainable lifestyle for now and our young people’s future.
  • a complement to and enabler of the actions of states and corporations to address the climate crisis.

What it isn’t

It isn’t prescriptive and it isn’t a programme. We all know how to say sorry – more or less. If the idea rings true for you, you can apologise to your young folk in your own way, and together you can agree on what behaviour you are going to change first – and then next, and then the next, and so on.

It doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Part of the apology is recognising that we still haven’t listened to the wealth of scientific information that is so easily available. Stripped away of concerns about what others are not doing, we know we have to consume less.

It isn’t offered as THE solution to climate change but as an essential component. We are just one piece in a very complex puzzle. But without this piece, the puzzle can’t be completed.

Available resources are provided if you’re not sure of an effective place to start.

Painting by Marion Just