I wondered out loud to Keith recently why so many people our age seem not to take global warming seriously. Whenever the national news focuses on the latest violent weather or the melting of the ice caps, it makes us feel vaguely anxious, and we try to do our part to leave less of a “carbon footprint” – but what is that against everything else contributing to global warming? I pointed out to Keith that we have spent our lives feeling vaguely anxious about things that never happened, and perhaps that is why many people do not take reports of global warming (or potential pandemics) seriously.
It got me to thinking about the Baby Boomer generation and how we grew up hearing dire predictions that never came to pass.
(1) The Doomsday Clock – remember it? It sat for years at mere minutes to midnight, when we were all going to be incinerated in a nuclear holocaust. Boomers grew up seeing yellow and black signs marking fall-out shelters – those places intended for shelter when the bombs started falling. Only, they never fell. We spent our childhoods feeling anxious that the world would end any minute in nuclear war, but it didn’t. Here’s something interesting I discovered today – the Doomsday Clock now indicates global warming, and it is set at five minutes to midnight. It’s closer to midnight today than it was in the 1960s!
(2) Pollution – I remember reading a Weekly Reader article in elementary school that said if things continued the way they were going, that by the year 2000, we all would need to wear gas masks in order to breathe. This frightened the living daylights out of me. It said there would be no fresh water left; everything would be polluted and unusable. Fortunately, laws were passed that helped clean up the environment, but I wonder how accurate the predictions really were.
(3) Extinctions – first would be the bald eagle, next would be alligators and sea turtles, then rhinos, and I don’t remember what-all was supposed to become extinct. Never did. Of course, again, laws were passed (ie, outlawing the use of DDT, which made eagle eggs too fragile to hatch).
(4) Communists – my parents were convinced the Commies were trying to take over America. I remember being lectured about Communists, Vietnam, and the domino theory -- one country succumbs and then all the rest fall like dominoes, and that was why our country had to get involved in Vietnam. McCarthyism and the Vietnam War became symbols of what happens when the government gets it wrong.
(5) Moral disintegration – we were told that wholesale divorce, legions of children born out of wedlock, working women, and out-of-the-closet gays would mean the end of the nuclear family by the 1980s or ‘90s. Last I looked, we’re still around.
(6) Drugs – oh, my, didn’t we Boomers hear dire predictions about what drugs would do to us? I remember being astounded in my 20s when a perfectly sane friend told me he had experimented with LSD many times. He was normal, not a brain-damaged lunatic. I knew lots of people who smoked dope, who seemed to function just fine. No one told us that the real killers would turn out to be common-variety alcohol, tobacco, and junk food.
In retrospect, I think it comes as no surprise that many Boomers (and their children) still feel a vague sense of unease at dire predictions of the future, but little else. What will come of any of it, only time will tell.