Advice to a young adult in 2021
A father in one of my online communities asked people for what advice they’d give to a twelve-year-old. I’m not a father and haven’t been twelve since the 1980s, so I don’t know how appropriate for that age, but here was my answer:
Not knowing the kid (barely knowing myself), I can only guess at his interests and situation, but here’s what I would want someone to tell me if I were becoming an adult today. If not appropriate for twelve years old, well, I haven’t been that age in a while so don’t mind if you filter it. I recognize it may rub some the wrong way. We’re all unique.
These are not normal times. Despite nearly every message you’ll hear from the mainstream, living sustainably is a joy. It’s not things you have to give up, it’s returning to humanity. Using flying as a proxy for various polluting activities, but one people are most addicted to, if you never fly in your life, you will live a richer, more fulfilling life than if you do.
People who fly today are like those who in England in 1800 consumed sugar, molasses, and rum from slave plantations. Those who avoid it today are like the abolitionists who made that practice illegal, with one major difference: today’s suffering is orders of magnitude greater than then. Ten million people a year die from breathing polluted air, as one of many ways flying kills, and that number is increasing. The Atlantic slave trade took centuries to reach that number.
Every argument to fly today would also justify operating a slave ship then. Yet people who fly today use the same bogus excuses: the plane was going to fly anyway, what I do doesn’t matter, only governments and corporations can make a difference, planes will be electric some day, the economy requires it, if we don’t do it someone else will, only privileged people can do it, or as Greta put it: blah, blah, blah.
These are historic times and you can make history. We can’t change the past or that millions are dying already for our flying, but we can change future. Those who gave up hope will tell you those excuses and more. Those who don’t give up hope will help steer us from the worst disaster. There are levels of disaster, including potentially human extinction. Everything everyone does affects everyone. Adults should be leading since we own assets, hold board seats, run companies, vote, hold office, and have infinitely more resources to influence than kids do. Some of us adults are acting, though most make excuses.
Abolitionists Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, Oluadah Equiano, and their peers changed an empire. Only a few of them started it. You can make a difference with every act you do and can achieve as great results. Others consider it a burden to think of others when they prefer to fly without considering the consequence to those who can’t help breathe their fumes, get displaced from their land to take its resources, etc. You may not understand it yet, but you may understand better than anyone: considering others helpless to protect themselves is an act of love, humanity, and stewardship that you will value more than any job or tourist site.
To live in stewardship today means never flying, eating meat, having more than one child, using plastic, and so on. It will bring you a better life by any human standard than if you life like polluters. Instead you will enjoy local community, cuisine, culture, and so on, which will connect you more with distant people and places than flying would.
All of those words will be meaningless unless the person saying them also acts with integrity, genuineness, authenticity. No one has to be perfect, only doing their best. I have done so, and documented the joy, not deprivation or sacrifice, I’ve found in my ongoing attempts to live more sustainably. It may help to show a Roger Bannister, whose personal actions enable me to lead corporate leaders and elected officials to change themselves and their organizations, to show how systemic change happens:
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