President Barack Obama, ever the optimist — he was the author of “Audacity of Hope,” after all — believes that humankind will eventually rise to the challenge of confronting climate change. The only question in his mind is whether the global response to rising temperatures, melting glaciers and destructive weather patterns will be sufficiently rapid to forestall further catastrophe.
“I actually think we’re going to solve this thing,” Obama told reporters in Paris Tuesday toward the end of a news conference marking the end of his on-the-scene participation in the global climate talks. “If you had said to people as recently as two years ago that we’d have 180 countries showing up in Paris with pretty ambitious targets for carbon reduction, most people would have said, ‘You’re crazy. That’s a pipe dream.’ And yet, here we are.”
The president’s optimism only makes sense when you consider the concept of generational problems and generational change. “Climate change is a massive problem,” he said. “It is a generational problem. It’s a problem that, by definition, is just about the hardest thing for any political system to absorb, because the effects are gradual, they’re diffuse. … It kind of creeps up on you.”
This week’s cover story looks at the 125th anniversary of a landmark institution here in Baltimore — Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, which has become a central feature in the lives of many of the community’s seniors and their families. These types of stories invariably offer the chance for community members to reflect on an institution’s accomplishments — how it’s changed, how it’s evolved. But it’s also an opportunity to reflect on how the community around it — how society at large — has developed.
The world in 1890 looked quite different from the world of today, and no one would be criticized for rightly noting that life in the early part of the 21st century bears little resemblance to life in the late 19th. The changes wrought by industry, by technology and by custom have been dramatic, upending conceptions of the family, of communication, of exploration and of politics.
But to a person living through them — save, of course, for such thunderclap moments of upheaval as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and the moon landing — is it not reasonable to assume that change came gradually? Children born today have little to no conception of what it means to have a “landline,” an encyclopedia or a word processor. In that sense, change, just in the past 40 years, has been dramatic. But to those of us who have lived through those decades, we probably barely noticed how revolutionary such developments as the personal computer, cellphone and Internet were at the time.
Looking back at the current “generational problems” such as climate change — others are systemic racism, anti-Semitism, poverty and crime — we might get frustrated when the change that we yearn for is slow to come. It’s the kind of anger now animating the protestors outside downtown Baltimore’s courthouse, where their screams can be heard by potential jurors in the first of the Freddie Gray trials. But if we take a look at history, we can appreciate the progress — not noticed at the time — that has brought us to where we are today.
At the end of the day, generational problems require generational changes. Knowing this takes the idea of hope from the realm of idealism and into the realm of reality.