Each day on my way to work I pass a one-mile stretch of freeway that is lined on both sides with motor home parks and sales lots. Many of the newer motor homes are the size of a greyhound bus, get as little as 3 miles per gallon, and are priced as high as $500,000 or more.
This new generation of gas-guzzling, up-scale vacation toys is iconic, as the primary market for them is the retiring generation of “baby boomers” who have left us trillions of dollars in debt, 65% dependent on foreign oil (a loss of even 10% of which would be catastrophic to the ’status quo’), and sprawling population centers built atop rotting, 50+ year-old infrastructure–an infrastructure that would cost more to replace than the value of the buildings sitting on it.
To make matters worse, they are also leaving behind a “next” generation afflicted with the same degenerative disease. Like their parents, this “next” crowd is blindly dependent on an economic system that relies on consumer growth and leveraged credit in order to survive. And many of them, too, look forward to the day when they can buy one of those luxury motor homes and head comfortably into their sunset years without giving any thought to the incredible economic and environmental mess left behind.
Of course motor homes are just one symptom of a generational attitude. Yet they stand out like a raised middle finger when they pass by on the interstate, heading south…a little like a migrating “sign of the times” that says, “F**k You! It’s your problem now. We’re outta here!”
But even more troubling than the material problems being left behind is the mindless behavior that produced them. For example, a very large percentage of water usage in this country is dedicated to flushing toilets. A single flush uses from 1.6 to over 5 gallons of water (depending on when the toilet was made) just to get rid of a cup or two of pee. And why? Because it is essentially a thoughtless action…an action that routinely wastes nearly 8,000 gallons of water per year, per person. We have become the first generation of human beings on earth to use 70 times the water that we take in each day just to get rid of the quart or so that comes back out.
My concern is not so much about material challenges as it is about responsibility (or the lack thereof); its about the childish ‘kid in a candy factory’ behavior that now spans almost two generations. But that behavior can be changed very dramatically–almost overnight–by anyone. All it needs is enough motivation to ask ourselves the following question: “How do my actions (or inactions) today impact the future? And not just my future, but that of our children as well?”
And how hard is it to become more thoughtful, more responsible? Does it take years of therapy…or simply require a few moments of self-appraisal?
For sure, cleaning up the mess left behind will require a Herculean effort. But ending the practices that created it requires mostly just a good, hard look in the mirror. And the future, I think, relies on the results of that more than anything else.