Ours (by which I mean those under 30 now) is probably the first generation in a position to not just adjust our lifestyles to cut carbon emissions, but to make a choice never to cause certain emissions in the first place. I’ve been wondering recently about the ways in which young people could be encouraged to take advantage of this.
With most addictive activities, the biggest mistake is seen by most recovered addicts as having been starting. Once one starts, it becomes harder to accept the benefits of stopping. And so it is with flying, or perhaps even driving. I suppose its possibly different for different people. I certainly struggle with the idea that I should stop eating meat and dairy, but for my friends who were blessed to grow up in veggie families, its obviously easier to move to full veganism as it would be for me (or if it isn’t, my point is still made, in as much as its easier to justify not changing to ones self).
I can certainly imagine that once one gets behind the wheel it becomes more and more tempting to drive instead of cycle or walk in less and less justifiable situations. Sure, I’d love to have the option when its raining to hop inside a car, but then if I got that far, would I maybe drive when it was cold? Or when it seemed too hot? Or I just couldn’t be bothered?
There’s got to be a bunch of other areas where we might want to start on the right foot, but the point is basically that in each case, setting out at the start of life committed to avoiding those emissions is very different to make a leap part way through. Its a different processes completely to cutting something out. I suppose its arguable that as one reaches maturity, one’s carbon debt becomes one’s own responsibility, and so it again provides a unique chance to start out getting things right. Its something which could be used powerfully.
But its also not something I’d promote lightly, as it bares something of a similarity in my mind to one of the things I find most detestable in Western Christianity; that infernal “Ring Thing”, the chastity ring concept/movement, what ever you want to call it. I do think there’s something potentially bad about getting teenagers to sign pledges declaring what they will and won’t do. But I suppose with students, its a bit different, though there’s still room for peer-pressure to become a problem.
Then come other questions, like what actually counts as the problem level for a situation? Is it a crime to learn to drive (maybe a ton of carbon), or to own a car (25 ton of carbon just to build the thing)? What about those heading towards an area of work which currently requires a car? Yes, community health practices need to drastically change (indeed, the whole health industry needs evaluating, but that’s another issue) but is it a good thing for people to boycott such careers just because of the strain they might currently put on the planet? I wouldn’t want anyone to feel bad about driving an ambulance, but I do think they should live near the ambulance station and cycle or walk to work.
And positives? I know I often place a little too much effort on cycling, and how young people get into bad habits in this area, but its worth examining. With kids still generally riding mountain bikes, which are too clunky to really get any distance on, how do we shift the conception of the bike as a way of getting to school when one is to young to drive onto an understanding of the bike as a primary means of transport? Is it unfair to demand that young people commit to cycling on all journeys of under 10 miles where they don’t walk? Is this maybe a bit of a bad demand when some young people are unable to cycle for perfectly valid medical/physical reasons? And do we want young people to grow up thinking buses are for old people (which incidentally is how its starting to appear)?
Maybe someone can turn this around and make it into a decent proposal. Perhaps the answer is some kind of pledge, or perhaps its just generally educating young people about the decisions they need to make now so as not to have to make different decisions later. Either way, its important to recognise that, as the world tries to kick the carbon habit, for some people, the option of not starting is available and therefore should be encouraged. Innovation is definitely needed.