There was a sort of secretly pleased part of me relished the idea that I was part of Generation X. It sounded properly fitting to my geekish way of thinking, as if somehow we’d be the generation that might start to manifest powers, or that we would somehow work up to heralding in the kind of world Star Trek: The Next Generation suggested was in the not-as -far-off-as-you-might-suppose future. It never occurred to me that our “power” would turn out to be invisibility.
When I was in college I aspired to a life where I would build a Scandanavian log house as passive as I could (something like this one ). I fondly imagined I could buy some land slowly over the course of my lifetime and forest it with native broad leaf trees, not to farm or to profit from it, but because I really, really wanted to and Ireland didn’t have enough trees. I assumed all this was absolutely something I might do because while there had been some financially rocky times as I was growing up – and I’m really not going to get into a Four Yorkshiremen sketch about it all – the economy in Ireland was picking up and my prospects were pretty good.
I’d grown up used to hand me downs, my parents sort of organically grew our small cottage around their growing family, putting stuff together from windows and doors bought in charity auctions or clearouts of convents. And it wasn’t just us; a piece of furniture could make it’s way through many houses in an extended family. Parcels of clothes still came from relatives, sometimes from the States. It was common enough for people to sow a few spuds and peas in their back garden. Two car famiiles weren’t really a thing. At the same time I enjoyed enormous personal freedom. Realistically if I wanted to go see my friends I cycled the couple of miles or I didn’t see them, simple choice. We disappeared from the house and were told a time to be home and there was no way to check what we were up to really between those times. I know deep in my heart why my sons haven’t had the same kind of freedom, and as a parent they seemed good reasons, but… I cooked, I had outdoor skills, I was pretty good at figuring out how stuff went together, I was well educated and had fantastic still further educational prospects and computers were really starting to take off.
Lots of other people were in the same sort of position; durable, self-sufficient, independent and resourceful. I went to college and navigated ‘adult’ life as best I could without a mobile to “phone a friend” or be my own PC in my pocket. Oh but when I found PCs!! The Internet!! For a geek the ease at which I began to be able to acquire information was incredible, the possibilities were properly gobsmacking. I learned to tame little sections for my very own. I fancied myself clever and capable, good with concepts and stringing them together. I moved in a world where we shifted into ideas and services, where we could live anywhere and work anytime, we didn’t need to be fixed to one place doing only one thing. We cultivated transatlantic friendships with people we never met face to face. Our personal universes expanded rapidly, we met all kinds of people leading all kinds of lives. We became fascinated with the ease with which we could acquire new skills, learn new things, Many of us jumped in with both feet and we expanded laterally into the world, impatient with the colloquial and looking for the larger experience.
I’ve long believed that Ireland at that time suffered from a terrible inferiority complex. We constantly berated everything about ourselves as laughable and inferior. We were the Third World of Europe, or so we were told. We needed to get with the programme, pull oursleves up by our bootstraps and earn some respectability for ourselves; economic success, a more global outlook, faster, higher, stronger and all that jazz. We were told our workforce was lazy and unskilled but had potential – study harder, better, longer, and, of course, more economically astutely!
Whispers came through that we were quite a clever bunch, really. Research was highly thought of and well received, our STEM graduates were suddenly having choices about employment options. Ireland’s economy went through the roof, but so did everything else. Many, many plots were lost, in spectacular fashion. At one stage I was dreaming of escaping Dublin for myself (I worked there for some time when I finished college) and I looked at a small cottage and it seemed manageable at about IR£26,000. Not very long after ordinary people I knew were buying houses – in OFFALY – off the plans for €250,000, and that wasn’t all that remarkable. I remember the first time the thought struck me that that was One Quarter of a Million Quid. That, even now, seems insane to me.
All through this time we were being told we were worth it, didn’t we deserve it, weren’t we clever, hadn’t we earned it? Somehow we were finally getting some sort of just reward. I have long held the opinion that expectation is deadly. The Universe does not, in fact, owe us a damn thing. We hopefully get to exist, that’s it. There’s no reward scheme we were all secretly signed up to at birth that somehow implies if we live some ill defined “right” way we deserve a big house and three cars.
When you are dealing with stupid amounts of money things go a bit weird. You decide things like “oh it’s okay, things are a bit stretched now, but they’ll be fine next paycheck/year/work review but we’re good, we have *money* so we can keep doing stuff, but maybe we’ll just stick it on the credit card this time. We deserve it, right?” There is suddenly no room for anything to go wrong from paycheck to paycheck, none. People don’t pass the suite of danish furniture through seven cousins’ homes anymore. It looks wrong if you’re wearing the same dress to two weddings. People start to feel aggrieved with you if you decide you can’t actually afford to go on the long weekend foreign trip for their hen or stag.
But the finances can go properly and terribly wrong. Even trying to be prudent you look at the option to swap out your oil fired central heating for something better and you kick it down the line a bit “until finances improve”. You buy a house at least a little resentful of new environmental standards because it costs that bit more, do the minimum in your proce bracket but decide that you’ll make better environmental choices “next time”. Talk of rising carbon taxes irritate. I drive to see friends that live farther away than I’d like because the public transport system frankly sucks. Electric car would be nice but there’s no way I can afford it. Grants you say? well yes, partial, and only *after* the initial outlay. But soon, right? Soon.
Responsibility on the never never.
Because that’s the thing. We have always known there was a problem. When I was in my teens Greenpeace were all over the news. Highlander 2 (it actually is a real thing, honest) had an admittedly terrible plot about the ozone layer. I can still sing the theme song to Captain Planet. But there was an overarching societal notion that environmentalists were a bit “cranky”. Negative stereotypes about treehuggers and crusties abound still. At the time I remember being alarmed by some of the things I learned then, and I definitely was one of the kids who cared, but I acquired an unshakable notion that we were better at being people by then though, that all the new research, the might of science was awake to the problem and would bend its might to finding ways we could get on with busy, productive lives but still manage to save everything. I was naive, I was stupid, I was suddenly a woman with more problems than solutions and, as I said earlier in this blog, I went to sleep. I was able to continue in my pleasant dreams that work was being done to save us until climate denial went utterly and completely mainstream, probably most shockingly in the shape of the President of the United States. Don’t get me wrong, amazing work and research has been done. It’s just not getting anywhere. There has been an escalation in messages coming through; we have less time than even we thought we had. Things are escalating in worse ways than we predicted. Time is absolutely, irrevocably running out. Those things we told you in the 90s, the predictions we made? Guess what, the evidence is showing it is happening and you are still ignoring it . David Attenborough finally gets to at least partially take the gloves off to tell us we really are in trouble
And then today I read a tweet about some things that Greta Thunberg said in her speech in the UK “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that enable you to carry on like before” …. “You lied to us. You told us the future was something to look forward to” (Full speech: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/23/greta-thunberg-full-speech-to-mps-you-did-not-act-in-time …) It stopped me cold. She’s the same age as my youngest son. I’ve been hearing about climate change since I was her age. I look at predictive maps showing how little of Ireland might still exist in 70 years with horror. What did these kids do to deserve that?
Where have we been? Why can we not turn around to her and say “see! yes we knew about this stuff and here’s all the things we’ve done about it! See how we stood up for ourselves and the planet against the forces that wanted to turn everything into money! See us!”
Although I am less inclined to believe that the concerns of environmentalists are being hyped just to get attention, clearly my head is messed up, my priorities askew and I remain somewhat brainwashed by people telling me progress isn’t costing us everything. I am aware that this is likely easily dismissed as the rantings of a useless middle aged woman jumping on a bandwagon. I know on more than just this level I have come to recognise I did a disappearing act. But done is done and now I need to start thinking more clearly. I can’t keep thinking something marvellous is going to rush in at the last second to save us. Nor can anyone else.