When I last tackled this subject I was focusing on the narrowing gap between earnings and pensions in the UK. I concluded that it was not something to get over excited about. There are, however, other more serious forms of generational theft, as one of my commenters on that post reminded me. Two of them came to attention this week.
My generation and that of my son have, by our excess consumption, created a world in which our grand children and their children will be faced by enormous difficulties. Resource and commodity shortages are already responsible for wars which will inevitably continue and become more widespread as time goes on. Whilst many of our rivers are less polluted than they were a generation ago, this is largely down to the demise of mining and heavy industries in Western Europe and North America. The imposition of levies on the sale of plastic bags and exhortations to recycle paper, plastic and metal have yet to have a significant impact on the tonnage of such waste cluttering our seas.
Driving around the Irish countryside over the past few days is to see monster machines engaged in the harvesting of grass for silage and the subsequent spreading of slurry on the fields. The unsavoury odours that greet you as you encounter such activities are evidence of agriculture’s contribution to global warming gases. The potential for pollution of water courses by the application of fertilisers is supposedly limited by strict controls on the timing of such applications. Controls which, incidentally, will no longer apply in the UK once her exit from the EU is achieved, one of many rules and regulations which will need to be re-incorporated into UK laws if the farming lobby can be placated.
Which brings me to Donald Trump’s unsurprising decision to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement. This is surely a measure aimed at an older generation of US citizens nostalgic for the return of mining and heavy industry. Of course, those jobs are unlikely to return. But we will see an increase in the highly polluting activity of fracking and a continuation of the long distance transport of oil with the concomitant dangers of pipeline leakage, rail car derailments and sea borne tanker groundings.
The second example of inter-generational conflict was exemplified by a programme on the BBC earlier in the week, in which two groups of people were brought together to discuss issues pertinent to the UK general election. One group consisted of under 30s, the other of over 60s. One contribution in particular caught my attention. An elderly gentleman in the audience pointed out that not only did he have free university tuition but he also received a maintenance grant. Once his education was completed he was able to purchase a house costing around three times his salary. Today’s UK graduates not only leave university burdened with debt, they will be lucky to find a house costing less than ten times what they are able to earn.
It struck me that no-one mentioned the fact that the elderly gent was one of fewer than 10% of youngsters who went to university in those days, whilst the majority learned on the job and studied for a professional qualification in their ‘spare’ time. Now we push close to 50% into academia.
I couldn’t help wondering if policy makers had focused more on building homes and less on university campuses might we be less likely to be facing a housing shortage? If the same policy makers had encouraged practical skills instead of academic achievement might we be less reliant on immigrant labour? And if parents had been left to get on with the business of raising children instead of packing them off to be cared for by people with sociology degrees so that both parents could go out to work, might we have fewer disaffected young people?
I’ve known for a long time that my generation, the one that reached adulthood in the sixties, was the lucky generation. I am now coming to realise that we and our children are guilty of taking far too many of the planet’s resources and putting back little of real value.