Chances are that we only realise and comprehend the full extent of what we have destroyed for everyone, when all the Truffula Trees are gone. In the famous children’s book ‘The Lorax’ about the tragedy of the commons, the Lorax himself, being the guardian and voice of the precious Truffula Trees, cannot prevent natural disaster from happening. The steady decline, with its incremental changes, passes almost unnoticed until the crash. Today our climate, our biodiversity, our resources, our clean water and also our public health; all these commons are our Truffula Trees. And as such, severely at stake.
At the same time, most people reading this text will not experience the full effect of today’s actions. And this seems to be a problem. The young generation will get a good taste of our action’s consequences. Yet, these people under 30 only make up 2% of the world members of our parliaments, one of the bodies that we hope is capable of inducing change. But with this underrepresentation, meaningful participation and thus an effective voice cannot be assured on this level. And we haven’t even talked about the completely voiceless future generations yet that will be born into this mess, without having any representation at this very moment.
If anything like a social contract exists and is working, we, the current generations, are obligated to leave future generations with a standard of living that is “at least equal to” ours. For decades we have been aware of the decreasing quality of our commons and the severe consequences to come, but fail to find or better agree on adequate solutions. Our parliaments do not manage to pass laws that are fit for purpose and are doing too little too late. And the idea that markets will regulate themselves can only hold if the different interest are somewhat balanced. Regarding carbon emissions, one third of the global emissions are caused by only 20 firms and on the consumption side, 86% of the global emissions can be allocated to only half of the population. And of course young people are underrepresented in this wealthy half. The relation between short-term personal or corporate benefits and long-term guardianship of our commons within our market has been out of balance for a long time, if it ever was balanced in the first place. And this imbalance is failing to protect our future, the reality of young generations and those yet to come.
Youth is taking their voices to the streets in worldwide and unprecedented climate protests, backed by science, in solidarity with future generations and trying to defend our shared commons. It seems like they don’t want to end like the Lorax did: waving goodbye to the last Truffula Tree. In the book, the Lorax leaves us with a moral for old and young ones alike: “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better”. Having people who care a lot seems like a real asset. Yet, we fail to be the Lorax we need.
So, what if we would manage to work together to become a much more efficient guardian of our commons?
What if we make it mandatory for our businesses to get our license for all their operations, and thus also level the playing field for responsible businesses?
What if we agree to follow through the needed consequences of the decisions we make as a society in solidarity with each other?
We will need to find solutions on many levels, but as businesses will be key in the quick adoption of strategies to combat the climate crisis and protect our commons we might as well start there. Social licenses required for every operation seems like a good start. And if we let the people who care truly participate, we might even end up with a social contract that works for everyone. Even future generations.
Thomas Betten is trying to do his share protecting our commons by providing metrics for sustainability. He studied power engineering and worked for a private company in sustainability sector. Now he is back at the university in Stuttgart. He is using his force for good by advocating for intergenerational equity with the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations.