Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Generation Brat

Away from the Grenadines for the moment, and back to Canada, at least in text, as Michael Enright of the CBC Sunday Edition issues a long awaited public apology to my generation on behalf of the baby boomers:  “for handing over to you a world you never made, but one in which your forebearers, my generation, have pretty much made a spectacular balls-up of just about everything.”

Young persons like myself have a difficult time quite understanding the frivilous despoilation of earth and economy wrought by the baby-boomers. They were unique: riding an unprecedented confluence of riches, where most modern amenities and infrastructure were already built, wages were high, and the world’s resources still seemed unlimited. What else were the care-free 60’s and rebellious 70’s but the collective brathood of a generation that had it all and could flaunt it contemptuously (my generation never had so much fun). It also spawned a generation of Reaganites obsessed getting their money out of the system that their parents had given them: their parents paid their taxes and built a seemingly unassailable country, and they subsequently took the surplus for themselves in the form of tax cuts, rather than pass on a rainy day fund to future generations.

For example, consider sewer systems (of which I do a lot recently, living on a tiny Grenadine Island in the Lesser Antilles, who never had an infrastructure boom). Where I live now could never (NEVER!) amass the capital to install a grade A sewer which doesn’t pass raw sewage directly into the sea. In fact, new cities in Canada, like Victoria, haven't been able to amass the capital to install a sewer system which doesn’t pass raw sewage directly into the sea. Most North American cities’ sewers which we take for granted were actually built at the turn of the century (1900’s), with about a 100’s life-expectancy. Consider bridge building too: their life expectancy similarly expires in the next decade.

If the baby-boomers were a confluence of riches, my generation sails the perfect storm of crumbling infrastructure, a bankrupt economy, sparse oil reserves, and environmental apocalypse. These are very real issues happening right now, unlike the entertaining suite of invented calamities that dazzled the baby-boomers, like Nuclear Armageddon and the Red Tide, neither of which seriously threatened the globe.

How to respond? I’m reminded of a “Chinese curse” and a “Chinese proverb”. The curse: May you live in interesting times (check). The proverb: a crisis is also an opportunity. If my generation could manage to regain some of our stolen wealth, and stave off the shadow of elderly entitlements like cushy healthcare and tax cuts, which may yet bankrupt us (more), we might just be able to seize this opportunity.

I have a feeling that the story may be far more grime for the Grenadines and the rest of the developing world...

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