I am part of a generation whose quality of life will be worse than those who came before us. This should encourage society to realize that the idea of infinite growth is a myth, and that time is of the essence when it comes to saving the environment.
Millennials (those aged roughly between 25 and 38) and others born after us will never be able to live better than our parents (or grandparents). There are those who will blame Netflix subscriptions or avocado toast as a pattern of expenses that, if avoided, would allow us in theory to buy a house. But the economic data is there and it doesn’t lie.
Economic growth has slowed down in a good part of the globe and, along with this, there has been a weakening of the welfare states in most Western countries. This has been coupled with a reduction in taxes for those who are the wealthiest, resulting in unprecedented wealth inequality.
Demonizing the leisure activities of the most precarious sectors not only demonstrates a conservative and prejudiced position but also a shameless ignorance in the face of a problem that has been studied by many experts.
When sociologist and Pulitzer Prize winner Matthew Desmond recounts in his book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City how a man who receives government food stamps to alleviate hunger decides to spend them all on a lobster feast one day, he does not take a judgmental approach. On the contrary, he uses the example as a way to demonstrate that, without those small pleasurable gestures, life would have no meaning at all.
The growth dilemma
In other words, what may seem wrong from a nutritional or economic point of view can be logical emotionally. That man who bought lobster needed to feel like a full citizen. He wanted to feel like a member of a society, which is one that values the rich, their whims and luxurious wastefulness while criminalizing those born in poverty for practically everything they do.
So the anger of those 30-somethings and younger is legitimate. They are facing injustice with seemingly no end in sight. However, sometimes that visceral drive is channeled into the form of inter-generational resentment (against our elders), instead of directing it to a better target: the neoliberal puppet masters.
And this is where the issue becomes thorny, because some call for more neoliberal capitalism in order to maintain a certain lifestyle. But this would involve more plundering of the Global South. If there is one dilemma we are facing most strongly it is the complex balance between the longing for the exponential growth of the past and the realization growth cannot be infinite.
Left-wing demonstration against the German government's energy and social policies in Leipzig
The Global South
We are in an era that calls for frugality, energy savings and an urgent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but austerity has strongly negative connotations (bailouts of banks with public money, dismantling of basic services, unemployment). Against this backdrop are climate and social justice goals. Climate and social justice goals call for “more wealth for all”.
Those on the bottom do not want to hear about cuts. They are already paid a fraction of their wealthy boomer boss.
Then there are conflicts of interest. If some environmentalists propose reduction, they are criticized. If the government rightly intervenes in a war situation, the argument is someone else should make sacrifices, I have made enough already. The nations of the Global South use similar arguments: The environment should be protected by the rich. We want to "develop."
Our survival depends on how we handle this situation.
Perhaps what all these complaints and demands have in common is that they are born from the same capitalist status quo, which determines what is imaginable. At this point there are no miracle solutions: There are those who denounce the proliferation of fast fashion manufactured by child labor with huge amounts of fossil fuels. However, those few polyester rags in the closet of the most disadvantaged Western citizens bring satisfaction and a false perception of great purchasing power.
The climate question
Going back to the man who bought a tasty lobster, who would dare tell him that bottom trawling is killing marine life, disrupting entire ecosystems, and that he should go vegan?
I don't have definitive answers for the massive crossroads this century puts before us. Sometimes, it is even difficult for me to understand the details of the contemporary maelstrom. But, as a millennial, I am clear on two things: that financial crises have rained down upon me, leaving significant damage, and that we have little time left to try to make amends for the climate catastrophe.
Our survival depends on how we handle this situation. For me, it would definitely begin with a massive redistribution of wealth and, once the pyramid top has been cut off, perhaps the way would be paved for the huge cultural changes that urgently need to be adopted.