Bob Dylan wrote the following lyrics many years ago for a generation lost in an immoral war in Vietnam and an immoral cultural war against civil rights. His words are perhaps more important today, as this generation confronts a war on our current culture and on the global environment:
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.
I recently read what I considered (at first) a shocking piece in Grist entitled, “Cohort replacement’: Climate deniers won’t change, but they will die.” It goes without saying that Grist is an environmental website run by and visited mostly by those of a younger generation of environmentalists. I despair that some in this recent generation feel that the only way out of the environmental crisis at hand is for the older generation to hurry and die out. But while I despair that things are this bad between generations, I have
come to agree with the notion. Climate change deniers are not going to change because doing so will harm their present bottom line. All that is left for them is to finally die off. They have created conditions in our environment that have convinced our young people that they — the deniers– must die out and soon.
Think of it. Most young people believe that those who are climate change deniers, who believe in raping and polluting the planet for profit, must die off — and sooner than later — before we can save this planet. This is a tragic rupture in our cultural fabric and is sure to foster more environmental “Occupy” movements over these next few years. Only this newly created Occupy movement will occupy more than silly little city parks. Those in this movement will occupy state legislatures, state capitols, college campuses and even the national capital if need be, much like those of us who did so during the 60s and 70s to stop the war in Vietnam. They will not stand idly by while their environmental future is destroyed to create obscene wealth for the few.
Politicians in Washington, and in state legislatures across the country, will certainly not change because they are in the pockets of major corporations that make a profit from polluting the environment and keep them in office with obscene amounts of political campaign contributions. But the real tragedy, perhaps their ultimate betrayal, are those college and university administrators around the country who send police in to pepper spray them when they demonstrate for social equality and responsible environmental behavior.
I have come to believe that those who are waiting for “cohort replacement” are right. This older generation, for the most part, really doesn’t get it. They have buried their heads in their pocketbooks and campaign coffers, and will stand in the way of any legislation destined to save the planet from environmental collapse. So in that spirit I’ll add my name to those who want these older people to either die out, or retire to a condo in Arizona or Florida, sit out on a park bench, and keep their mouths shut.
I asked my Urban Planning class today if anyone else besides me was experiencing — on a continuing basis this school semester — coughing, a runny nose, itchy eyes and a scratchy throat. Every single hand went up. I wasn’t surprised. We’ve been having what I consider to be a Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce nightmare. We’ve been having week after week of some of the nation’s worst toxic air here in Salt Lake City. As we move into mid-February, it has not let up, and there are no signs of relief in sight.
This single question led to a discussion about the environment and politics and their pessimism about our political system and the environment. The subsequent discussion was troubling, if not shocking. “No one is listening,” said one student. “It won’t matter what we say because the politicians don’t care,” said another. More similar comments followed from students of generally conservative families. These are families here in Utah who have followed their church in voting Republican for so long that they’ve forgotten why, other than they’ve been convinced to do so by a church that many decades ago adopted the Republican Party as their party of choice. And everyone knows that to be a Republican voter means to deny anything positive for saving the environment.
With the bad news about environmental pollution right in their eyes, throats and lungs, my students are starting to ask uncomfortable questions:
Why are Utah fish contaminated with mercury?
Why is the seasonal inversion getting worse giving Salt Lake City some of the most toxic air in the country?
Why is soot beginning to cover the wilderness back country snow pack in Utah?
What’s going on with wildly changing weather across our country?
Why is the amount of dust that blows in with the western wind increasing?
Why are long productive water wells in Utah going dry?
Why is the always productive aquifer in Southern Utah going dry?
Why are brine shrimp from the Great Salt Lake full of chemical contamination?
Why are songbirds returning to Salt Lake City so early in the year?
Why are Utah state politicians in our legislature proposing legislation that will further harm the environment in our state?
Why is our state legislature proposing and passing legislation to stop cities like Salt Lake City from passing environmentally friendly ordinances like anti-idling?
Why are state legislators proposing legislation to allow even hotter toxic nuclear waste to be deposited at the Energy Solutions site in the western Utah desert?
Why is our snow pack, one of the largest ever last year, critically low this year? Many forget that we’ve been in a ten year drought that has dropped water levels dangerously low in Lake Powell. Everyone thought last year was our drought-busting year. But here we are again in drought conditions that have no end in sight. There is little snow in the Salt Lake City air, but lots of toxic contamination.
Why does our local Republican state political machine deny global warming and side with business and industrial polluters?
My students can’t figure out why the older generation in this state continues their headlong efforts to destroy the environment in this state and in the country. They feel powerless because their once trusted political leaders are betraying them and destroying their future. They are being betrayed by their law makers, by their churches, by polluting corporations, by their neighbors and their parents, and they know it more and more each day. Dylan’s song now speaks to a new generation of young people who hold in their hands the planet’s future.
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.