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The Politics of Young and Old

If one considers the main challenges facing the world today – including climate change, pensions, public debt, and the labor market – a grim conclusion emerges: It is much worse to be young today than it was a quarter-century ago. And the invisibility of this change is bad for the young, for democracy, and for social justice.

PARIS – If one considers some of today’s main challenges – including climate change, pensions, public debt, and the labor market – an obvious conclusion emerges: It is relatively much worse to be young today than it was a quarter-century ago. Yet in most countries, the generational dimension is remarkably absent from the political debate. Fifty years ago, people spoke often, and loudly, of a “generation gap.” Today, that gap has become invisible. This is bad for the young, for democracy, and for social justice.

Start with climate change. Its containment requires changing habits and investing in emission reductions so that future generations will have a habitable planet. The alarm bell was first rung in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro; but over the last generation, little was done to contain emissions. And progress following the landmark agreement achieved in Paris in December is unlikely to be fast, because the accord is premised on postponing major efforts. Universal assent was made possible only by further delaying.

Given the massive inertia inherent in the greenhouse effect, the gap between responsible and irresponsible behavior will start resulting in different temperatures only in a quarter-century, and major consequences will follow only in 50 years. Anyone older than 60 today will hardly notice the difference between the two scenarios. But the fate of most citizens currently younger than 30 will be fundamentally affected. In due course, the respite gained by the older generations will have to be paid for by the younger ones.

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