The rising generation

We just returned from Sydney where we saw our first grandchild, James, now two weeks old. (I’ll skip all the doting grandparent stuff, but other grandfathers and grandmothers can fill it in for themselves). It’s striking to think that he could easily be around in 2100 and, given plausible advances in medical technology, well beyond that.

When we (that is, middle-aged and older people) talk about the effects (good and bad) of our actions on “future generations”, it’s worth remembering that young people now alive will experience those effects long after we are gone.

75 thoughts on “The rising generation

  1. Congratulations, John. 🙂

    I’m not a grandparent yet, but considerations about the fate of our children and our children’s children are never far from my thoughts.

  2. First up PrQ … congrats on the new addition to the family. What an exciting time for you! I hope all the surprises of the next 18 years or so turn out to be good ones.

    As you say, it is for your grandson’s generation and those who come later, that we ought to be most concerned when considering policy. Truthfully, for those of us 50+ years old, the prospects of being harmed are modest and such as we will be, there’s probably not a lot we can do. My sons — 25 and 16, will surely live long enough to suffer directly and indirectly for the latter halves of their lives and witness misery ion paces not far away resulting from climate events we might avoid if we act now, but even here, we can’t be sure that we can stop all of it.

    The life chances of those who are my age (51) in 2060 however trouble me a great deal. Not only will they have lived all of their lives in the shadow cast by the climate anomaly, but they will spend much of it worried about their children and grandchildren and knowing that their grandparents and great grandparents knew this was coming, but substantially squibbed.

    There are no time machines, and as I say to my students, if I had one, the time to engage with your future would still be right now.

  3. Congraduations John, I think you post captures both the hope and concern of new parents and grandparents. I have a 20+ month old daughter, and I had the almost exact same thoughts. She is a lucky to live in a time when medicine is now reaching the state where she can expect to live a long, productive life. What medicine will be able to do in 20 years time will most likely be amazing. Contrast that to our present understanding of the serious threats to the evironment and our cilivisation.

    Our society is a precious thing, perhaps more fragile than we think. What spurs me to take positive steps and to speak to others about climate change is the desire to give my child, and by extension future generations, a world they can live in.

    We are the custodians of the future, what we do today will impact future generations.

  4. I think it is imperative that we all work towards achieving the goal of a strong and prosperous Australia for future generations to inherit and build upon. This includes a rational tapping of our mineral wealth, continual economic development which is facilitated by a non-onerous system of government regulation, economic reform to maintain budget prudence and surpluses, privatisation of industry in which government should not be involved and measures to improve and sustain the birth rate of the successful middle class.

  5. “When we (that is, middle-aged and older people) talk about the effects (good and bad) of our actions on “future generations” ”

    Perhaps there is no good and bad that one can do to future generations.

  6. Unfortunately climate change will compound other problems like Peak Oil and Peak Phosphorous. It seems a tough inheritance on today’s little kids. For example they may never own and drive their own personal car. Perhaps they won’t think kindly on their grandparents for denying them what we now take to be a universal right. Future generations will have to solve the problems of maintaining living standards using less carbon energy and of growing food with less input and erratic water supply. The suburban dream of every child getting a post school qualification and a well paid job may be a thing of the past. That child may be lucky to get a job as a helper in an urban farm and their standard transport may be an electric scooter. Those who think it won’t come to this must explain where the resources will come from.

  7. Alice :Congrats Prof – thats nice news.

    conrad :“When we (that is, middle-aged and older people) talk about the effects (good and bad) of our actions on “future generations” ”
    Perhaps there is no good and bad that one can do to future generations.

    I’m more than familiar with Parift’s “Reasons and Persons” – and understand his reasoning. However, the future I imagine is not for some abstract or idealised. There is no question of the non-identity-problem. I know my daughter will grow up to experience a world impacted by climate change.

    The latest CSIRO report posits average temperatures to rise by 2 deg-c by 2030(ish). That’s within my lifetime, and certainly within the lifetime of my daughter. We are looking at a 4 deg-c by end of the century, if not sooner. Some models predict that temperature rise may spike by 2060. Again, well within the lifetime of those born today.

    Do we owe something to these actual, living breathing individuals we hold in our hands? Or do we forgo any thoughts of the future? It’s about probabilities: what is the probability that my child will experience a world impacted by AGW? Very probable. What is the probability that she will live until an advanced age? Very probable. What is the probability that climate models predict change? Again probable. This is no academic exercise, it’s rather concrete.

    Contrast this with Parfit’s thought experiment known as the “Repugnant conclusion”. Parfit’s point is to criticise utilitarian philosophies of “the greater good”. No-one who advocates action to mitigate AGW is suggesting we go down the path Parfit explores.

    Taken to that extreme there is little point safely disposing of nuclear waste: why take precautions to limit the potential damage of these materials to hypothetical and unknown generations? I’d also note the Wiki article needs editing as it does not meet their standards.

  8. Congratulations, Prof Quiggin and family, to the birth of James Quiggin. I do hope young James will benefit from the work of his grandfather and continue in a similar manner when his time comes. In the meantime, may young James live in an area of Sydney that isn’t aircraft noise affected and nobody is drilling big holes into rocks next door for the purpose of buildig yet another shopping centre or high rise appartment building or whatever it is that is said to justify the nuisance.

  9. Congratulations on becoming a proud grandad John.

    Re hermit 9;
    “Those who think it won’t come to this must explain where the resources will come from.”

    Australia has 200+ years of proven reserves of natural gas and additional 300 years of probable reserves. Considering this is a low carbon source of energy, Johns grand children, great grand children, great great grand children, and great great great grand children, etc..etc…etc.. will be fine. Also by that time AGW will well and truey be proved a hoax.

  10. Tony G :Congratulations on becoming a proud grandad John.
    Re hermit 9;“Those who think it won’t come to this must explain where the resources will come from.”
    Australia has 200+ years of proven reserves of natural gas and additional 300 years of probable reserves. Considering this is a low carbon source of energy, Johns grand children, great grand children, great great grand children, and great great great grand children, etc..etc…etc.. will be fine. Also by that time AGW will well and truey be proved a hoax.

    More unsubstantiated claims of the “AGW hoax”. File along with the “evolution hoax” and the “heliocentric hoax” and the “germ theory of disease hoax”…. Those naughty scientists with their so called “facts”. Passing on this drive by troll. Anyone else wanna go?

  11. If the glass is half-full, then the same technological improvements that could enable a child born today to live on average to 2100 and beyond should also give future generations scope to deal with the legacy of problems inherited from us better than we might imagine. That doesn’t mean we should be profligate with the earth, but it might mean we shouldn’t get too depressed either.

  12. Australia has 200+ years of proven reserves of natural gas and additional 300 years of probable reserves.

    Cite please.

  13. I have two small children, and vacillate between hope and despair for their futures. Mostly I’m positive though, I mean things have tended to get better every generation for the past couple of centuries, ever since we started listening to science not priests.

    All you can do is bring up resilient people, to weather the storms.

  14. Wiful,

    There are a lot of what ifs in the measurements, but if you ban exporting natural gas now, include coal seam gas and we keep current known reserves to be saved for future generations, my figures are a good projection.

    Back ground figures here;

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4094

  15. As several people have pointed out, it isn’t just the children who are going to notice some significant climate changes due to AGW; quite a few of us are young-ish enough to `enjoy’ some of those changes with them. Meanwhile, Cory Bernardi and his ilk will most likely be collecting a massive Politician’s Pension thanks to us taxpayers, and yet the guy is an absolute waste of good oxygen. He tells it like it isn’t, when it comes to climate science.

    Hrrumph, I’m goin’ outside to look at the new tomatoes.

  16. That’s odd, I read that link you provided and it had a range of plausible scenarios that all indicate less than 40 years supply. Or a fifth of your claim…

  17. Congratulations, John. Grandkids are lots of fun.

    I wonder how many people feel a strong connection with the future or the past. It gives me a sense of wonder to know that my own great-grandfather was a young man about London town in the 1820s, or that my grandfather lived to hear about the Wright brothers and then saw jumbo jets.

    My feeling is that this sense of connection is much weaker now than in the past, but I would be hard put to find evidence.

  18. Congratulations John. I remember when you were the enfant terrible of the Australian economics profession. I suppose you are now the grandpa terrible.

  19. Congratulations. You’ve got the jump on me. We’re close in age but the eldest of my four daughters is 17 so I’m not expecting any grandkids for a while.

    Also, what we really need to know is the collective name for this this generation is and what psychological propensities have been assigned to the demographic.

  20. Sorry Jim, the dickheadsdemographers have already labelled them “Generation Alpha”. Apparently they’ll be all f*cked up.

  21. I pity the new generation. My generation, those just too young for Vietnam were the only generation that never went to war, and enjoyed free university, and easily obtained fulltime ‘permanent’ employment in the 70s and with substantial superannuation provisions.

    This has now all gone.

    I fear the Z-generation? will yet prove to be the unlucky generation (if not the last).

  22. John, That’s right – the phrase ‘future generations’ sounds so nebulous and abstract – and since we do weigh the welfare of the klives of our current children and grandchildren at non-neglible levels we should discount at less than 3%.

    Its a point you have made before and worth restating on this happy occasion.

  23. Oh come on Chris, I’m Gen X, never been anywhere near a war, had a little trouble getting in to employment there in the early 90s, but still had damn cheap education, could rent a share house in the inner city and get onto the home ownership treadmill by the early 21C. Also we will benefit massively from advances in gerontology, paid for by boomers. Don’t feel too sad for Gen X. Gen Y, with their housing problem, well that’s worth being sad about. But more generally, don’t feel worried about those of us with HECS debts, we aren’t/weren’t worried about them ourselves, we recognised that it was a good investment and doesn’t hang around forever.

  24. @Tony G

    Natural gas is not a low carbon source of energy. Natural gas is a hydrocarbon. Combustion of natural gas produces mountains of CO2.

    Every atom of carbon in natural gas ends up in the atmosphere after combustion – there is nowhere else for it to go.

    TonyG is threatening our planet.

  25. Well Chris, it feels odd to be doing this, but I’ll partially defend Tony G, even though he’s made up a bunch of figures regarding gas supplies. Gas is low carbon compared to what it’s replacing, coal. Compared to what we need, which is no carbon, it’s not good. But as an interim step that supports the closure of a coal fired plant, it is good.

    But you know all this.

  26. Wilful

    Gen X, were a transitional generation, and it appears the ones that did the damage (and still are).

    Gen X, in western economies, were so satiated, they did not see what was going on.

    I blame Gen X for many things.

  27. Well, the life expectancy at birth now for a man is eighty, taking us to 2090: projecting on using the basis of the increases for the last 20 years, by the time he reaches 2090 the average age of death will be 107, giving him another 27 years and taking us to 2117: by 2117 it will be 118, another 11 years; by 228 123; by 233 125: by 235 126; so about 127 years old, then. Of course, as a rich bugger’s son he’ll probably do about 5% better than that.

  28. @ChrisB

    I assume you are being tongue in cheek, but as is so often the case, the low-hanging fruit gets claimed early and past improvements are an inadequate guide to future developments.

  29. @Chris Warren

    It’s not low carbon but it is lower carbon. Used to immediately replace coal burning plants — especially the worst ones — like Hazelwood for example — it would be a modest step forward and healthier than what we have now on emissions.

    Coal seam bed methane tends to get vented with coal so assuming one keeps digging the stuff up using the methane makes sense, providing it offsets coal burning. If it can underpin resort to even lower sources of energy that most people accept right now — like wind and solar — then this would be a step forward.

    Would it be better to shut the mines and seal them and run on nuclear? Absolutely.

    Is that likely soon here? Nope.

  30. OK, some facts for the natural gas is low carbon squad …

    Ok some facts for some natural gas cheerleaders.

    Wikipedia sayeth ….

    According to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (Working Group III Report, Chapter 4), in 2004 natural gas produced about 5,300 Mt/yr of CO2 emissions, while coal and oil produced 10,600 and 10,200 respectively (Figure 4.4);

    but by 2030, according to an updated version of the SRES B2 emissions scenario,

    natural gas would be the source of 11,000 Mt/yr, with coal and oil now 8,400 and 17,200 respectively.[24] (Total global emissions for 2004 were estimated at over 27,200 Mt.)

    Carbon from natural gas destroys the climate – but appears to give all the not-so-green pundits a warm fuzzy feeling.

    Switching to natural gas (@ half the carbon rate) but doubling energy usage, still cooks the climate, and is no real solution.

    Its a placebo at best.

  31. It’s not a placebo, it’s a half-measure, when half-measures are probably inadequate.

    of course, the originator of this thread was a person who doesn’t even understand basic climate science, and thinks we have far more gas than we actually do, so it’s all a gross distraction.

  32. wilful :It’s not a placebo, it’s a half-measure, when half-measures are probably inadequate.
    of course, the originator of this thread was a person who doesn’t even understand basic climate science, and thinks we have far more gas than we actually do, so it’s all a gross distraction.

    Classic drive-by troll… hit and run. “Climate change not happening!!!” Followed by silence.

  33. No wilful,

    If Australia redirected its LPG for domestic use, instead of exporting it, we would indeed have more than 200 years worth. Using just ithe proven reserves; if we include probable reserves there is alot more.

    Also, if Australia converted its coal fired power stations and transport (75% of our emissions) to run on LPG, we would cut Australias emissions by more than 50%. Just converting Australia to run on LPG gets 10 times KRudds ETS, which proposing to cut just 5% whilst costing us heaps more.

    btw climate science is a hoax and there are no real expert climate scientists, just computer modellers. So forgive me if I do not understand/ ‘believe’ basic climate modelling.

  34. The Parliamentary Library report on natural gas is an eye opener
    http://www.aph.gov.au/library/Pubs/rp/2007-08/08rp25.htm#_Toc192411140
    See Figure 2 for forward projections which seem to take no account of natural gas as a petroleum replacement, either as compressed gas or converted to petrol as is done in Malaysia. I believe a million tonnes is about 60 petajoules. Back in the Thatcher era the Brits thought their gas would last for ever now they import gas from Russia; apparently half the gas is used to run the overland pumping stations.

    Back in Oz we have LNG exports which are mysteriously deemed trade vulnerable under the ETS. I thought it was 100% traded. Some vegetarian shareholders in a WA ammonia plant have done so well that tradies are not allowed to eat meat pies while building their new mansion. Strangely I agree with Tony G we are making a big mistake flogging so much gas which we should save for later process heat, transport fuel, ammonia and so on. Shadowing intermittent wind and solar with vast amounts of gas fired generation is also unwise. Nukes should generate at least 50% of Australia’s electricity. After all we have the most uranium.

  35. @Chris Warren

    The improvement over petrol is 25%, and still less than half for coal.

    I’m no huge fan of gas and see it very much as a transitional measure but that said …

    Coals aint coal and oils aint oils. The best anthracite coal burns much better than the cheapest lignite coal. As always one must compare like with like. CCGT and OCGT have different applications and run at different thermal efficiencies. One also has to bear in mind what would have happened to the gas if it had not been combusted. If it simply vents to the atmosphere from an open coal mine, then we get GHGs but no energy.

    If some combination of OCGT and CCGT allows us to run wind and solar with minimal redundancy then it is the package as a whole the life cycle emissions of which we should assess. Gas plants that can do district heating or supply heated water for industry may also be more efficient in practice than the mere electrical output might suggest.

    And of course, it is not merely GHGs that concern us, but the other effluent from coal plants as well. These plants are actually toxic in the usual sense. Even if there were no GHG problem, it would be worth phasing out burning coal for energy. Ditto for petrol and even petroleum diesel.

  36. Chris Warren :Wilful
    Gen X, were a transitional generation, and it appears the ones that did the damage (and still are).
    Gen X, in western economies, were so satiated, they did not see what was going on.
    I blame Gen X for many things.

    Nice logic. Unfortunately it’s also completely unproductive. Not to mention unfathomable.

  37. @iain

    If you cannot fathom something, how on earth can you judge its productivity?

    Those who can fathom are the productive ones. The rest just scribble in vain.

  38. Congrats Prof. Quiggin.

    @Chris Warren
    Perhaps you could elaborate for those of us who found your comdemnation of gen x puzzling. I’m in my late 30’s and don’t feel responsible for the current problems in the world. I’m not living the high consumption leveraged world overlord dream either are any of my friends.

  39. @Michael

    The statement – “I don’t feel responsible for the current problems in the world” is a gen X/Y moniker.

    The deliberately confusing spin we get such as: “I’m not living the high consumption dream” is a gen X/Y moniker.

    Gen X/Y does not have the cultural ability to see that western high consumption is the current problem of the world. They try to spin their way out of moral responsibility and blindfold themselves against political and economic recognition.

    For Gen X/Y, the world’s problems are restricted to 20 sec grabs on their TV’s, interesting news stories perhaps, but not to disturb drinking time.

    To see the real damage Gen X/Y has done – you have to be inside the ALP, where the influx of Gen Y/X waxed destructive sellout politics from Keating, Tanner, M Ferguson, Rudd and Co.

    Just compare Tom Uren with Lindsay Tanner. George Petersen with Belinda Neal.

    Have a look at the meaningless drivel that is supposed to represent the ALP platform. This is pure Gen X/Y dross.

    Gen X/Y consciousness to corrupted by sweatshop labour from the Third World and the refusal by Gen X/Y to admit this fact. They think the goods and services they see in the shops (eh Nike sports shoes) are there by right.

  40. When I was busy talking ‘intergenerational equity’ mainly to farmers interested in sustainable land practices, climate change and AGW wasn’t much on the radar. Although a bit of a mouthful it hasn’t yet been mentioned on this post. Yet it has much wider applicability to genX/Y now and I wish I could see more evidence of it.

  41. @Chris Warren
    why believe there is a genX/Y – it’s a construct of marketing agencies and a bit of stats, with limited application to marketing products. And even if you do believe in genX/Y , the concept is derived from population stats and can’t be legitimately applied to any individual in particular except in the crudest probabilistic sense.

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