Do we have any moral obligations to the future?
I have pondered this question a lot of late since starting my current writing project and connecting with other folks working on similar ideas. As mentioned in my previous blog post, we have reached a point in our daily lives whereby we need to change our collective behaviour in order to retain something positive for future generations; we need to drastically change our living habits if we are to allow the world to continue in even a smidgen of a way that it always has done. We know that we cannot keep consuming the earth’s resources as we have done; we know that global warming is a real issue that is going no-where; we know that hundreds of species and natural habitats are dying out daily across the world – all because of us.
There is a vast amount of work to be done to change how we live; a vast amount of thoughts to consider and an overwhelming amount of ripple effects happening each day from our actions and our inertia.
There are, thankfully, some powerful drops falling into the ocean across the globe that are prepared to answer the question at the top of this post with a resounding "Yes".
Yet one of the frustrations that I consider time and again about our need, as humans, to change how we are living, surrounds the inertia towards mass collective action. Although there are many drops working hard in our ocean to initiate change, there are so many puddles of apathy, it is hard to see how significant change will ever come about. I have spoken with friends many times about the futility of activism in the face of governmental torpor; how the collective mass of a country so often looks to guidance from a government to instigate change, yet so many governments are too concerned about retaining their popularity (and vote) whilst in office, they are reluctant to be the one to inflict the Bad News.
Growing alongside this reluctance to adopt change is the “Us versus Them” response that western media so often channels towards environmentalists, campaigners and environmental change-makers. On the one hand, Humanitarian peace-keepers are heralded in the press and our psyches as angelic saviours, and yet Environmental peace-keepers are so frequently demonized as destructive pests. Why is this? Why on earth do we not see that, without the earth to stand on, we won’t have any humans left to save?
My answer: the ostrich-effect.
In so many areas of life’s wider ocean, there is always the option to take the head-in-the-sand approach; to turn a blind eye, as it were, to some of the bigger pictures facing humanity, and to just stay focused on the everyday. This, in essence, is not an action that anyone can blame; after all, we have been programmed to desire a happy life and to focus our thinking onto our own selves, our own small puddle of existence. It is sometimes far too overwhelming to consider the ocean of issues surrounding us as a collective mass, when we have so many little drops of angst to contend with in our every-day lives. Thus, for many, we choose the ostrich approach as a means of survival and just worry about the here and now and our immediate problems.
Understandable: yes, but futile, and very harmful for the future.
I am driven by my concern about the inability to inflict the sorts of life-changes that we all need to start adopting if we keep our heads stuck in the sand and don’t look out to see the ocean of problems surrounding us. There are, right now, many people living across the world in sustainable, harmonious and unobtrusive ways; people whose ripple effects across the wider world are little or non-existent in terms of negative damage. Yet, at the same time there are billions of people living across the world in totally unsustainable, inharmonious and utterly obtrusive ways, whose negative feedback to the world is monstrous in its scope.
Here’s an example from my own life: my carbon footprint as an average UK is high (not as high as some other countries out there, but a very negative feedback onto the world). By the end of just two days, an average Brit will have emitted as much toxic carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through their every day actions as, for example, an average Tanzanian will emit in an entire year.
I (a statistical example of an industrialised British citizen) am an energy guzzling, urbanised, high-impact consumer who brings a lot of mess to the world. The average Brit has a very high negative impact on the world and a future ahead of them of sustained negativity if they continue on this path. My friends out here in Tanzania (where I am presently living) currently have a very low carbon footprint and very, very low negative impact on the planet; they don’t create much metaphoric mess. And yet they too have a future ahead of them of growing negativity, as they are encouraged to develop in the self-same way as the industralised world without a global responsibility to act. They also ironically already suffer the climate-changing effects of our years of mess; devastating crops and homelands across the country.
For some reason (which I cannot quite understand) the average industrialised citizen is not, in any way, made to feel guilty about the negative lifestyle being lived out every day. If we choose, we can decide to not even register that there is another way to live. No government initiatives are instructing their citizens to change our ways; no life-style changes are being inflicted upon the masses; no collective responsibility is being encouraged. And so it is easy for all to continue living this life; sticking heads into the sand and consuming on into the future (plus, even more worrying, to go out to the non-industrialised world and tell them to follow suit).
A wonderful writer, philosopher, activist, call him what you will, Daniel Quinn, stated in his text, Beyond Civilisation:
“Right now there are six billion or so of us in what is deemed the culture of maximum harm. Only ten percent of these six billion are being maximally harmful – are gobbling up resources at top speed, contributing to global warming at top speed – and so on – but the other ninety percent, having nothing better in sight, want only to be like the ten percent.”
It seems that for most of us, until we are told and sold, collectively, another way to live, people will chose to follow the masses and keep digging in the sand. It is, by the looks of it, the nature of our beast.
Do we have a moral obligation to the future? Yes, we do. But I feel, for many that it is so hard to contemplate the ocean of change that we need to tackle in order to make a positive future because the ocean’s vastness seems so far removed from our individual lives. It is perhaps too hard to see any of this as a smaller picture to directly impact on our daily lives, as the problems seem far beyond us. In order to inflict change, I think we need to stop looking at the ocean as a mass of problems and start looking at the drops that make up the mass. In particular, to motivate this change, we need to think about our children.
When I think about the future, I know I have a moral obligation to change. Not for me and my sake; I’ll be long gone when the wake of our proverbial mess hits the fan; but for the sake of the children of the future. Whether it is the young innocents of our current generation, their children, or their grandchildren who have to face the brunt of what is to come, there is a wave of ignorant children who we are abandoning and leaving to deal with our problems. We are dumping upon them this mamouth task because of our current levels of inertia and apathy and because it is much easier to just stick our heads into the sand.
Children are not asked to be born; we decide to bring them into the world and, as such, they are utterly reliant on us to lead the way for them, to give them a good life, a good home on this earth and a positive start towards their future. For the most part, they have no idea what sort of world we are preparing for them; all they have is trust in us to do a good job and to be giving them life for a reason. And yet, so many of us seem to think that if we stick our heads in the sand, someone else will sort out the problems for our children’s future. What we are not prepared to admit, yet, is that it is our children themselves; the innocent masses of tomorrow’s world that will have to deal with our mess. What a world, what a task and what a poor life we are preparing to hand over to them through our ostrich approach to life.
Do we have a moral obligation to the future? Of course we do. If we care in the slightest about our children, about their innocent futures, about keeping this world spinning for generations, then our moral obligation should be at the forefront of our thinking. But, as I said, it is sometimes hard to bring the bigger picture down into our everyday lives. How do you strip away the ocean to see the drops? And how, whilst we’re thinking about it, could this make us care more? Allow me to take some of the global happenings of this week as an example of how an ocean can reveal its drops.
Hundreds upon hundreds of innocent civilians, many of them children and babies, have been killed across the world this week. Beyond the fact that there have been three catastrophic aeroplane crashes in just eight days, killing over four hundred and fifty innocents; there has also been a bombing of a UN shelter in Gaza, shrouding hundreds of women and children and many more attacks across Nigeria (to just name a few of this week’s global atrocities).
It is very hard sometimes to understand the devastation of such loss on mass; we hear of hundreds killed in bombings in the Gaza strip; of hundreds shot down in an aircraft; of hundreds being slaughtered across Nigeria, of 300 schoolgirls, even, being kidnapped. Somehow, when the suffering is so vast and incomprehensible, it somehow isn’t real, it is beyond our understanding. It is only when we reduce it down to the individuals; when we start to pick the drops out of the ocean and identify their resonance and meaning; only then can we start to understand.
When the stories and the life histories of the individual victims of those three plane crashes started to emerge, the horror struck. When the images and family photographs of those children killed in the UN bombing arrived, the disbelief grew. When the story came this week that eleven parents of the kidnapped schoolchildren in Nigeria have died from bomb attacks and from stress, the terror became real. When those three hundred young girls were kidnapped months ago in Nigeria, it was perhaps hard to contemplate the devastation and ripple effects of this loss upon their families. And yet, hearing that, aside from parents killed through bomb attacks, four of the parents have died from heart failure due to the stress of the loss of their girls, we can start to relate this to ourselves. We can all, after all, fully understand the devastation and ripple effects of the loss of one young girl from the UK, Madeline McCann, as we have been given the opportunity time and again to understand her impact as a drop in the ocean of her family’s loss.
The politics of the Ukraine and Russia; the landscapes of Burkina Faso and Taiwan, the struggles of a divided Nigeria may seem like worlds beyond most of our puddles of feeling, until of course, our own world was brought down into theirs. Suddenly, this week, the ripple effects of the wider ocean reached our own shores back home. And, through such tragedies, it is times like these when we come together; when innocent lives have been taken and destroyed; when we feel powerless to have stopped this suffering and angered by the injustice of life. Why then, can we not all come together to prevent suffering and injustice for our children in the future?
The children of the world unite in their equality. They are all born innocent into this world; into a life of hope and opportunity. We have a moral obligation to give them a world in which they can thrive, rather than a world that we’ve thrown away and it is time we pulled our heads out of the sand and started to work together to give them a world and a future that we would want for them. It is, I believe, our moral obligation to do so.
I’ll leave this post with some beautiful photographs (sadly none of them mine) of children playing across the world. The pictures are taken of children from Russia, from the Ukraine, from Burkina Faso, Taiwan and Nigeria; simple images to show just a few of the little drops of light floating blithely in an ocean of possibilities, waiting for whatever future we chose to leave for them on this earth.
From the Ukraine
From Burkina Faso
and from Nigeria
Here's hoping we can leave them something to smile about.