The election of Donald Trump in 2016 as United States (US) President represented the 4th consecutive baby boomer generation occupying the White House. If he is re-elected it would mean a 32-year boomer reign and given his age then, would it seem inevitable that the boomer’s time will be up? Not necessarily, and it could be that Generation X might eventually get skipped over completely in favour of a millennial.
One millennial in particular was there at Trump’s 2020 Davos speech – Greta Thunberg, all of 17 years old, who makes no bones about the conflict the generation she represents has with the policies and policy outcomes of the baby boomers.
In his speech, which came across as somewhat of a victory lap of sorts, Trump spoke glowingly of the accomplishments of his administration, pointing to the stock markets smashing record highs, the size of the economy, the low unemployment rates and in short, how great America is.
So why the generational conflict?
Simply put, it is because, in order to accomplish all the great things that Trump, well, trumpets, there are serious externalities that arise further down the line. The elephant-in-the-room externality, represented by the tiny Thunberg, is the costs associated with climate change.
This is after all, termed the Anthropocene epoch – the geological age period in which overwhelming evidence shows that all major earth system processes (including climate) have been altered by humans. So, Thunberg is right, and Trump cannot crow about the short-term successes in the economy when an even greater and perhaps unmeasurable cost to that short-term success must be paid for.
In the context of this 50th anniversary of the start of the World Economic Forum meetings, where the topic is “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World” it appears that these externalities are increasingly being recognised and need to be addressed at high level. Most of the other world leaders at Davos have spoken about the need to join forces to address these issues in a sustained and multilateral manner. Trump instead spoke nothing of these issues, but of how the US is focussed inwardly and on short term successes.
The sad part of Trump’s speech is that for all of America’s economic hegemony, the best response to issues of sustainability he could come up with was a sop to join the Trillion Trees Initiative. Meanwhile, back home his administration continues to roll back regulations aimed at curbing water and air pollution. Surely another sign that the bill for all of this growth at-any-cost is already in the mail – addressed to the millennial generation.