LaGreca: Fixing past mistakes will define a generation (column)
June 16, 2016
The sun seems to take the sweat from my creased brow even before it emerges. The grayed and long neglected cedar fence posts drink the stain with nearly the same thirst as I apply it.
Since purchasing my new home about 6 weeks ago, my partner and I have spent several thousand dollars and it feels like nearly as many hours on improvements, upgrades and updates. For a house built just before the turn of this century, it is in fairly good shape, especially considering the housing stock we sorted through ranging back to 1900. This fence however, is the first of a litany of already decrepit features hastily installed by the developer twenty years ago that need to be addressed promptly in the present day. Much like the cheap vinyl windows and the desiccating wood prevented from splintering beyond repair only by a hot day's labor, the 'economical' choices made by the past generations have landed my generation, deemed "millenials" by some demographers, in a position where our only option is to repair the outcomes of these short-sighted decisions at our own expense.
We were born into a mixed legacy of historically unprecedented opportunity but stagnation in key areas of energy and infrastructure. Our economy, for instance is generating more jobs in the green energy sector than in fossil fuels, with a positive outlook overall. Our roadways, on the other hand, have been neglected to the extent that the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that we will have to pay $2.1 trillion just to maintain the roads that already exist. Present day America is more entrenched in an infrastructure of dilapidated highways, aging homes, and rampant consumption rooted in the carefree 1950s than it is purely modern. Paradoxically we are now fully versed and technologically equipped to obviate the coming realities of climate change, yet we are still reluctant to invest in a reasonable mass transit system on the I-70 corridor, with immediately visible benefits to lessen traffic and pollution. No solutions will be found in pointing blame to any one generation for our current state of affairs. It needs to be said, however, that the outright obstructionism of sustainable development by the oil, gas and automotive industries is perverse. The ecological systems that these industries damaged need repairs badly, while bastions of the status quo fight tooth and nail to prevent any modernization. We are stuck asking ourselves how the next generations can escape the present cycle when all avenues are guarded by powerful icons of the past.
As Washington State Governor Jay Inslee said, "we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it." Baby boomers like Gov. Inslee have existed through the most rapid rise in pollution and habitat loss in human history. A subset of his generation actively ignored every signal that coal-powered consumerism was not an eternally viable paradigm. My generation is well practiced in making fashionable causes like global warming, but less adept at presenting a unified front of opposition to continued deterioration of our global ecology and economy. The New York Times believes that Generation Z, those born (iPhone in hand) since 1995 will be able to socially-network their way through our ailments, if their attention span holds. Ultimately, we of generations Y and Z will be forced to make the hard choices about our long-term viability that the baby boomers never would.
What would have only taken any one of the previous owners or the original builder of my new home a couple of hours to paint, weatherize or properly plumb will take me much of my first two years to save for and finally bring up to an acceptable standard. Moreover, it will take an entire generation or more to set straight the years of disrepair and ongoing use of an antiquated energy and transportation infrastructure. Our generation has been left with the bill to repair the damages. The obligation to lower CO2 concentrations and bring our lifestyles in line with ecological limitations is a project unlike any other. What will define the millennial generation is not necessarily what we can build but rather what we can fix.
David LaGreca is an independent environmental consultant, mountaineer and conservation writer, working in the outdoor industry in Colorado's Western Slope. He lives in Dillon.
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