Several of my friends have had babies in the last few years, and some are on their second round already. Though it seems to me that there are far too many people on the planet already, it's difficult to begrudge anyone the basic human drive to reproduce, and my friends' kids ARE ridiculously cute. I'm pretty sure they are all genius artists who will invent the next version of rock 'n roll and create world peace, too. But every time I play with them, surrounded as they typically are by plastic toys, educational videos and the other detritus of modern children's lives, I look into their eyes and I know: in 20 years, they are going to hate us.
Of course all teenagers and college students hate their parents a little bit (or a lot, depending on the hormones), as it's part of forging one's own identity. Isn't it the American way to hold your parents in contempt until you're at least 25, and then become them?
But these kids are going to have good reason for their anger, and I predict a revolution when these tiny tots grow to understand the legacy their parents have left them. They will inherit a planet-wide environmental mess, and it might not be impossible to fix, but it's going to take the best minds of their age (plus their offspring), lots of money, and a singular desperation to fix what's wrong before it's too late. What these kids face in the coming years will make the mistakes my generation has been left with: Rockefeller drug laws, repeated pointless wars in the Middle East, and lack of marriage rights for homosexuals, seem like quaint oopsies in comparison. They'll be figuring out how to handle the planet-altering effects of massive droughts (hey, it's already happening) and global warming has barely gotten underway), disintegration of ecological webs as species disappear during the current mass extinction, and human migration due to the effects of global warming, not to mention changes we can't even foresee yet.
Well, you say, each generation has to pick up after the one prior to it in one way or another; what gives those kids in diapers more permission than anyone else to let us have it? The answer is that we know what we're doing to the environment and we still continue to do it. Not only that, but Americans use more resources than almost anyone else, so the bulk of blame falls on us. There is no reason anyone under 50 should choose not to recycle, yet most of the places I've worked don't have a serious program to deal with office waste. We are all aware of how much CO2 is spewed into the atmosphere every time we fly (about ½ a ton for a domestic flight), yet we hop on last-minute getaway jaunts like they're going out of style. I could go on, but we all know our eco-sins.
The truth is, faced with the information-packed movies The Eleventh Hour and An Inconvenient Truth, coupled with the constant natterings, warnings and protestations of hundreds of green bloggers like me and the mainstream media alike, (2007 was The Year of the Green for glossy mags), the environment still places near the bottom of the concerns of voters according to a USA Today/Gallup poll.
What to do? If you're a parent, an aunt, uncle, godfather, stepmother, or any permutation of the above, or even hope to have kids one day, start thinking less about what piece of junk to buy the kids in your life, and start thinking about what your real legacy to them will be.
To get you started thinking about the issues, why not write a note to your sure-to-be-angry descendants, and tell them exactly what you did -- or didn't do -- to try to give them a healthy, sustainable world. Check out The DeSmogBlog's 100 Year Letter Project where the adults of today write to their heirs. Andrew Revkin, one of the top science/environment journalists for The New York Times, covered this ingenious combination of the personal with the global on DotEarth, the Times' enviroblog and he got some great responses in the comments section.
Before you pop that tyke into the back seat of the new SUV you bought for "safety" reasons, or purchase that plastic learning cube for him in hopes it will eventually get him into Stanford, take a step back and think 50 years down the line, and what he will write to his grandchildren about you.