Why the past might yet save the future...

There’s been a lot of misery lately about climate change and the environment, which many of us believe to be the greatest problem that the world currently faces. Even if you don’t believe that, you’d have to ignore a heck of a lot of evidence to still believe that it is a trivial (or even non-existent) threat. People are worried… which might be a good thing, because that’s the only way to ensure that anything is going to be done. Yet people are very pessimistic. After all, this isn’t the first time that millions of people have sworn to do all they can to save the environment. I recall when everyone went Green around 1989, building compost heaps in the garden and buying recycled paper. I decided that I would never again drive a car or eat meat, and I would do whatever I could to help the world. So did everyone else. Then, a few years later, we all forgot our promises. I started driving a car (though I’m still vegetarian), and the car used petrol and blew out carbon monoxide because manufacturers had lost interest in alternative fuels.

Oh, and we also protested for the environment. I joined a blockade against rainforest destruction in Malaysia, and tried desperately to get arrested (and thereby make some kind of statement) against clearfelling in the forests of NSW.

Before that, the world went Green in 1975, just after a global energy crisis. And before that, the Green movement had begun in earnest with the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962. Both times, of course, it was temporary.

So now, once again, we’re saying “Oh yeah… I forgot about that problem.” Some people, understandably, are predicting that we’ll all sink back into torpor, and ignore the world as we destroy it. Just like before. But I say: Maybe we won’t. Why? Because I’m a history buff! OK - I’ll explain. Before the environment, the greatest problem facing the world was the Cold War – and the very real threat of nuclear devastation. In the late 1960s, the protest movement came to a head, with millions of (mostly younger) people calling for peace and harmony. Most of these were baby boomers – people born just after World War II, not impressed with the world they were inheriting.

(Yes, you probably know all that. But I'm just getting to the good bit...)

Of course, all their cries for peace did not immediately end the Cold War. That happened twenty years later. This was largely due to one great leader: Mikhail Gorbachev (who was not a baby boomer, but a very wise soul). Of course, other leaders played a role – but all the leaders of the world couldn’t do it by themselves. The dramatic events in Russia and Eastern Europe, which eventually ended the Cold War, were due to regular people – including many baby boomers, who had now grown up and were in positions of greater influence. They still had their ideals (although they had seemingly lain dormant for so long). The bloodless revolution in Czechoslovakia, for example, was called the “velvet revolution” after a 1960s American rock band, the Velvet Underground, who had inspired many freedom fighters (including future president Vaclav Havel) with their anarchic music. The optimism of the sixties had not ended; it just needed more power behind it. Now, Generation X-ers (like me) have grown up since 1989, and many are in positions where they can change the world.  Hopefully, we have not forgotten the passion that we had to save the environment, our oneness with the natural world, our resourcefulness to find and use new forms of energy. If we can remember all that, the world can still be saved. And about time too! I don't get the impression that we can wait another 15 years…