By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.
“The youth walk faster but the elderly know the road” – African Ubuntu Proverb
There is a philosophy in many African countries that transcends borders called Ubuntu. The primary philosophy of Ubuntu is “I am because we are” and it generally means that an individual has humanity because they belong to a community. Never before has this been so apparent as it has during this pandemic.
Our society values individualism and freedom to its detriment. States with mask mandates have done so much better than states without mandates and yet we struggle to put life over liberty and to put individual wants over community needs. My fear is that as we face our next major societal problem of climate change, we are going to continue to make this mistake.
We are starting to see the influence of climate change, and the increased fires, hurricanes, and other potentially catastrophic events leave most of us feeling powerless and depressed. But my message is that our elders can help create the future we want by focusing on all the things they have historically done and focusing on a few new ideas.
First, everyone knows to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. What our elders may not yet know is that technology can help them this coming holiday season create meaningful, well received gifts that embrace these ideals. Instead of buying new gifts that contribute to pollution, elders can:
- Reduce – record your voice, create a virtual album, write your life story for the next generation. If you are talented, make them music, a quilt, or write a poem for them.
- Reuse – give away gifts that mean something to you, there is no reason to wait until you die for loved ones to have family heirlooms.
- Recycle – find crafty ways to upcycle soda bottles or whatever you have into holiday decorations and treasures. The internet is full of ideas.
Our elders can also teach us about how to be more self-sustaining. Victory gardens of years past can and should be revived. Growing our own food, in any small amount, helps defray the emissions required to bring food to our tables. Even something as simple as having an aloe plant in your apartment means you won’t have to buy a plastic bottle of aloe next time you need some.
Our elders remember that meat was not always in every meal. Foregoing animal protein for vegetable proteins, even on occasion, reduces our emissions and helps keep everyone healthy.
And here is an environmental idea that is new to me – move. Research indicates that single family suburban homes are the worst for the environment. Moving to a more densely populated area and/or a multifamily apartment significantly reduces our carbon footprint. About a third of all greenhouse gasses are from our living environments. It stands to reason that living in a house that is too big is one of the biggest problems. Reducing the size of the space a single person (or a couple) has to heat would benefit everyone, including the elder’s wallet! Density of housing also means that people also don’t have to commute as far to places like stores.
All the efforts our elders can take will benefit the world they leave their grandchildren. And it is incumbent on our seniors to show the youth the road, and then the younger generation can walk faster in the right direction.