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Why it’s up to Generation X to save the planet…


I'm a child of Generation X. The latter part I might add (!) but I'm in there nonetheless. And for the sake of this discussion, as there seems to be some debate online, let’s define Generation X (or GenXers) as those people born between 1961 and 1981.

I suspect I’m very similar to many GenXers at this point in my life; things are fairly stable - married, career, 2 kids, saving diligently for college, big mortgage and a good 20+ years of working life ahead of me. I also recently plumped down $1,000 for a new Tesla Model 3 electric car on the night of its announcement based purely on a few snapshots, some high level specifications, an approximate launch date and some promise that this is doing your part to save the planet. I was not alone however, some 400,000 other people have done the same thing and I would guess the majority of those are also GenXers.

Which got me to thinking about the environment, the stage in life that most GenXers have got to and about what sort of world my kids, and their kids, will inherit. So, why do you ask, do I believe the enormous burden of saving the planet fall on Generation X? Well, to start let’s look at the legacy we have been handed by the Baby Boomer generation that preceded us…

Baby Boomers started entering the workforce in 1964 and by 2016 they now range in ages from 55 to 70. The baby boomers have enjoyed the most unprecedented explosion of economic growth the world has ever seen, and probably ever will. In 1965 when those first Baby Boomers were starting in the mailroom at aged 19, struggling with the modernity of the recently invented felt tipped pen, the GDP of the 10 largest economies in the world was $1.26 trillion. By 2015 when those first boomers are heading for a sun soaked retirement, the top 10 largest economies had a combined GDP of $49.66 trillion (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_largest_historical_GDP). That’s a pretty massive 3,841% increase – not a bad result and they should be applauded for stuffing their pockets so expertly. But the question is –what was the cost for all this wealth generation?

In 1965 the world was pumping out 11.4m kilotons of CO2, by 2011 that number had increased to 34.6m kilotons of CO2 (source: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.KT?end=2011&start=1960&view=chart) and the world surface temperatures have increased by over 1°F in that time period (http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/our-changing-climate). The predictions are that this warming trend is expected to accelerate. Even if we stopped all greenhouse gas production today. That’s a scary thought.

Of course the Baby Boomers can’t be (entirely) blamed for global warming, for a start most of them didn’t even know about the phenomenon or heard the phrase until the 1980’s. But it’s also true that while boomers had the reins of power at major global corporations, governments and organizations, the relentless growth of capitalist industry has wounded, potentially fatally, our planet.

So, which generation is taking over the reins of power in those same governments, organizations and global corporations now? It is of course my comrades in Generation X who are heading into board rooms worldwide, newly appointed Presidents, CEOs and Chairpeople with big dreams of making a difference. What they should be wondering is whether to continue the short-termist decisions of their forebears - to ensure that quarterly profits are maximized or do what it takes so they can get reelected in the next cycle. Or, should they make the bold decision and redefine their role as to protect their companies, employees, customers or constituents for the long term, and not just this fiscal year or next. It’s been shown that every business sector is impacted if the global climate continues to deteriorate, so it’s really imperative for organizational leadership to say “I am willing to forego short term gains, if required, to ensure the long term viability of my organization”. We really need to find a better way of rewarding senior management to ensure they are motivated to do the right thing for the long term stability of the global environment, which ultimately will benefit their own organization, and not penalize them if short term sacrifices need to be made.

It’s not just GenXers in positions of power that need to step up and make changes however, it’s all of us, in our everyday lives. Most of us should now been in a place in our lives (I hope you are) where careers and income are mostly stable and where you can make decisions like adding solar power to the house, getting rid of the gas guzzling cars, telecommuting some days and paying the green energy generation surcharge on the electric bill. It’s those small individual contributions, across an entire generation, that really add up and sets an example for those that come behind us.

“But what of the Millennials/Generation Y – they’re the tree hugging ‘green generation’ aren’t they?” you might ask. It’s a fair question and true that Millennials grew up hearing about climate change, global warming and other perils, so they are very in tune to the problem. However, with the exception of a few unique examples (like Mark Zuckerberg) most Generation Y college graduates hit the labor market at just about the worst time in the last 50 years. They were trying to climb the corporate ladder during The Great Recession and many are still struggling to get a good financial foothold now – it’s hard to ask them to pay more for hybrid or electric cars, or invest in solar when they’re struggling to pay down student debt, save for a mortgage and even put something away for retirement.

So ultimately the burden falls on Generation X. We are the ones who have to be the super heroes and save the planet here. We have 10-20 years to make a stand and make a difference before we head into retirement and the Millennials take over. And what happens in the next few decades could decide whether our kids have a planet that’s slowly repairing itself, or is accelerating towards it’s downfall.

What will YOU do GenXer?



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