In the initial throes of back-to-school machinations and pageantries, it is easy to get lost in the grand spectacle-for-the-sake-of-spectacle that has become the rituals surrounding this yearly event. Therefore, let me take this opportunity to inform you that our collective future is under threat.
Perhaps at no point since the pre-WWII years has our country and the world been at such crucial and concurrent crossroads, with our future so indeterminate, and resistance to action so entrenched. Make no mistake, the choices we make today as a society will damn scores of current and prospective generations to the cruel consequences of indifference.
As the novelty of “catching up” gives way to the creeping existence of school life, it will become progressively easier for students to disregard a greater segment of what they consider “unimportant” in favor of some degree of an academic primacy mindset. There is something to be said of the welfare-maximizing rationality of these trade-offs. After all, why else struggle to pay $11,000 per semester in tuition and fees? ($38,000 for out-of-staters!) While most of the sacrifices — some big, some small — which students make in pursuit of professional self-improvement are reasonable and mostly banal, it is short-sighted and quite conceivably dangerous to those same interests to apply that same indifference to the moral and civic demands of our current moment.
Recently, the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a report that highlighted the impending calamity of anthropogenic biodiversity loss and the long-term catastrophic effects that this destruction of flora and fauna by human activities will have on the quality of human life on the planet. At the same time, the World Bank reports of a global water pollution crisis as rivers, lakes and oceans become contaminated by, among others, agricultural fertilizers and pesticides, as well as industrial refuse. Add to that the ever-encroaching reality of man-made climate change, and it is reasonable to be anxious about what the future of our earthly survival looks like.
Into this cauldron of malaise comes the country's various levels of government, which have become more synonymous with budgetary crises and partisan brinkmanship rather than anything resembling efficient governing institutions that are expected to play at least some constructive role in addressing the aforementioned human calamities. All the while, whatever action can be taken by government seems increasingly threatened by the untenable fiscal position of the country's finances — and by extension its responsiveness to the needs of younger generations — primarily due to current payments to older beneficiaries.
But this mismatch of priorities and implicit debasement of future outcomes in favor of chronic short-termism is hardly surprising. Considering that voter turnout for those aged 18 to 34 is only roughly around 45 percent while turnout among adults 65 years old and over is at a considerably higher 70 percent, despite so-called Millennial voters now outnumbering Baby Boomers. It is thus not surprising that young adults, college students among them, do not have their interests represented on the issues that disproportionately affect them. That is why students gradually choosing to disengage from the political process and the broader social conversations on these and other issues only serves to empower interests other than their own.
To be clear, this is not a matter of prioritizing the interests of the young at a disadvantage, or perhaps even cost, of older individuals. This is about having the views of the youth fully and accurately represented and given due consideration in all the relevant decision-making processes. For instance, 51 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 to 34 say climate change is a serious threat, compared with 29 percent of Americans 55 and older, according to a Gallup poll. Young people fading into the background on such matters of social importance diminishes the voice to which they are entitled to. Politics is the process about who gets what, when, and how, and you can’t get anything out of a process you aren’t participating in.
We can’t always get what we want, but maybe by electing political representatives whose priorities are more in line with our own, we can get what we deserve. In the sordid American tradition of the unending political campaign, the 2020 presidential contest is already underway. But there is no reason that we still can’t send a robust signal that the keys to the White House, for Democrats or Republicans, run straight through our generational cohort.
Whatever metamorphosis we go through or changes we make throughout this semester, let becoming less engaged in the moral and political battles of today not be one of them. If anything, the future to which we are working towards demands our active attention.