03 June 2012

INsuring Versus ENsuring Our Children's Future

We are a culture that eats its children and grandchildren.

— Tom Brown, Jr.

I read the abstract of an article this week about aquifer overexploitation and groundwater depletion in the US High Plains and Central Valley (hey, we all spend our spare time in different ways), and it got me thinking. Why is it

we're willing to INsure our future,
but not willing to ENsure our children's future? 

We're willing to pay money today (those of us who can afford it) to arrange for future financial compensation to our loved ones in the event of our own illness, injury or death. We "provide" for them financially. But we're not willing to make any sacrifices (of time, money, energy or comfort and luxury) today to make certain of providing our progeny with what they'll really need: adequate clean water, secure access to healthy food, shelter safe from extreme storms and heat waves. In other words, we insure our lives but don't ensure their lives.

Here again, it seems we can blame economics, and especially the EuroAmerican economy. (It's early morning and I feel like oversimplifying today.) According to our friendly Wikipedia, life insurance "began as a way of reducing the risk to traders, as early as 2000 BC in China and 1750 BC in Babylon." (See? Traders = economy?) Lloyd's of London (perhaps the most iconic insurance company) began in the 17th century as a group of merchants, ship owners and underwriters who met at Lloyd's Coffee House to discuss their deals.

Then there's the notion of future discounting (an accounting/financing principle that says "a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow"), which has crept into our collective EuroAmerican psyche: A life today is worth more than a life tomorrow. This is already true for us geographically or intragenerationally (a life here is worth more than one half way around the world), so why not intergenerationally as well?

Indeed, the noted economist, Julian "Doom Slayer" Simon (I predict he'll soon be renamed Julian "Future Slayer" Simon), once quipped: "Because we can expect future generations to be richer than we are, no matter what we do about resources, asking us to refrain from using resources now so that future generations can have them later is like asking the poor to make gifts to the rich." Pardon? See the kind of mindset we've been dealing with? Future generations don't stand a chance!

Here's another example I heard from a friend during the George W. Bush presidency. At an environmental conference in Seattle, a federal US employee with the National Marine Fisheries Service was asked, "Can you really support four more years of this administration's policies toward the environment?" Response? "I'm with George. He's all about right now. None of this future generations stuff. After all, what have they done for us lately?"

Perhaps saddest of all was the reaction recently to the World Future Council's call for Ombudspersons for Future Generations. (Please consider signing their petition here. It might be the only good thing that comes out of the Rio+20 Summit later this month.) They are calling for a network of special representatives to help protect the resources and livelihoods of future generations ... guardians of the future. The negative response I read (not to mention my husband's exhortation that this will come to naught if we don't give future generations legal rights), utterly disheartening, was it written mainly by selfish &%$#@! or by those who've simply never heard or learned about intergenerational equity?

Anyway, thinking like an ancestor isn't about buying insurance. It's about love for our children, our grandchildren, and all the children in our lives. It's about concern for our family's health, prosperity, safety and security, now and in the future. It's about child honouring ... placing the welfare and well-being of the children at the centre of all our deliberations and decisions. It's about ensuring a viable (livable, survivable) future for all the children. Of all species.

A man has made at least a start on discovering
the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees 
under which
he knows full well 
he will never sit.

— D. Elton Trueblood

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?