Years ago I was invited to a wedding. At dinner and after the official speeches, the couple gave the floor to their closest friends. I remember one of them making his toast, saying: “now that you are married, you are going to learn to think in the long term”. Claps. The couple is married until now, and indeed, they have kept the long term at the centre of their life plan. The friend of the toast, however, got divorced shortly after the party.
If, with issues such as marriage, taking out a mortgage or planning a professional career, we can think in the long term, then, when it comes to our survival as a species, why can we not do it? Yet, over and over again, international commitments to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause climate change fail, new goals are set that inevitably fail again. Something is wrong with our collective ability to think beyond the immediate.
Short-term decisions abound in our daily life: only with a click you can buy hundreds of things in seconds; social network tweets are answered seconds after they are published, generating an endless grey cloud of banality. This hurry has consequences: conspicuous consumption, indebtedness, short-termism and mental health deteriorating thanks to social networks.
Parents plan the entire lives of their young children under the influence of this short-termism: careers, universities, graduate degrees, appropriate relationships, and favourite vacation places. Yet, they are not able to see that the future they carefully project might not exist, or worse; it might exist in a much darker form than they even dare to think.
I still remember 2019, in the middle of the World Economic Forum, when Greta Thunberg took the stage and said, looking at the audience, mainly composed of businesspeople:
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up there. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words (…) For more than thirty years, science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you are doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight (…) How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business-as-usual and some technical solutions. (…) You are failing us. But young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you”.
Greta Thunberg was not making a toast at a wedding. Still, quite the opposite: it was something like the funeral of the short-term celebrated by the most influential economists and business people in the pre-Covid world. She was defending the interests of young people and their future, protecting them precisely from us who inhabit the present. A similar situation happens with the consequences of Covid 19, and if you do not believe me, ask yourself: Who will pay for the loans that governments around the world are taking today? Who will pay for the incredible amounts of money that this global crisis has costed? Who has thought about the kind of future that they are going to have with such debts?
The inheritance that one generation leaves to the other, for instance, leaving a clean and healthy environment, the accumulated wisdom transferred in the form of culture, literature, music, etc., says a lot about the kind of life that one generation wishes for the other. Today, this inheritance, ordinary in every family, is critical when we think about the planet. Therefore, the eyes of the future heirs look with intensity and criticism at their elders’ wasteful and careless lifestyle.
When discussing what world we want post-Covid 19 and Delta variant, it is an ethical imperative to consider the future that our today’s decisions and actions are shaping. Thinking about the future is an ethical imperative of the first magnitude that requires us to raise our eyes from the short term and daily pettiness and fix them with attention on the words of Greta Thunberg, which I think are worth meditating very carefully:
“The eyes of future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us now, we will never forgive you. “
Perhaps this statement will help us to think in the long term. Cheers!