Climate Disasters Destroys All -- Youth Shouldn't Lay Blame on the World's Older Generation

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Photo source: European Environment Agency
 
[Letter From New York]
 
Who is responsible for environmental degradation, climate change and global warming?
 
Between 1965 and 1971, I studied and graduated in geography, demography and economics. I was interested in the relative contribution of different factors to changes in climate and the environment. In 1972 the first United Nations conference on human environment was held in Stockholm, Sweden. The next conferences on environment and development were held in Rio de Janeiro (Rio I) in Brazil in 1992 and the next one, Rio II, in 2012. 
 
In these conferences an attempt has been made to determine the respective roles of different factors in climate change and global warming. Are natural causes--the Acts of God-- population growth, economic and technology growth more responsible than the others? Are developed countries more responsible for environmental degradation, climate change and global warming than developing countries? Are old people or the old generation more responsible than young people or young generation? Or are they all involved, with some contributing more than others?
 
It is increasingly being recognized that human activities are damaging the environment more than natural factors. It is also recognized that the developed countries, developing countries, young and old people are contributing to environmental degradation, climate change and global warming but some are contributing more than others. For example, developed countries are contributing more than developing countries since they have more industrial emissions. Africa with a population of about one billion out of seven billion people globally is contributing about 5% of green house gases mostly carbon dioxide and methane.
 
The debate appears to be shifting to the condemnation of old people or the older generation for environmental degradation, climate change and global warming in large part because of greed and profit motive and leaders' inability to take adequate corrective actions. 
 
However, a careful study of the consumer pattern between the old and the young may shed some light as to which generation is consuming more and damaging the environment disproportionately. I grew up in a family of 11 people-- nine children and two parents. Together, we the children consumed more food than our parents. Together, we the children had more clothes than our parents. And together, we the children occupied more space in our house than our parents. Ipso facto, we the children consumed more than the parents thereby contributing more to de-vegetation and pollution through production and distribution of what we consumed.
 
Since 1973, I have studied the consumer patterns between the children--young generation--and their parents, the older generation, in the countries where I have lived and/or worked. By and large or taken together, children or young people consume more than old people. They eat and waste more food than old people. The wasted food contributes to the accumulation of methane gas. Young people own more shoes, more clothes, more telephones and more computers than old people. The young in developed economies own more and travel in private vehicles than old people. During end-of-year shopping more is bought for children than for grown-ups.
 
Overall, based on my observation, the young generation's consumer pattern has induced a production and distribution pattern that has contributed disproportionately to environmental degradation, climate change and global warming.
 
It is therefore important that instead of pointing a finger, we should recognize and accept that we have all contributed to environmental degradation, climate change and global warming but some have contributed more than others and must adapt accordingly. 
 
The young and the old must join hands in this worthy crusade. After all, climate disasters affect all. 
 
 
Kashambuzi is an international economist and human rights activist.
 
New York City, USA

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