David Pencheon: Solidarity? When mass (in)action is bad.

David PencheonWhen good people do too little, bad things happen. Or: beware death by omission as much as death by commission. Prizes avaliable if you know the heritage of the original quotations.

I was at a House of Lords event yesterday discussing the effect of climate change on older people and what the response of public services should be. It struck me there are some important analogies between approaching older age and approaching a world of likely resource constraint and climate chaos. For many people the prospects of both are undesirable, but our preparations for both scenarios, especially at a societal level, remain woefully inadequate.  Ageism is still endemic, despite the fact that most of us will spend a lot of time as an “older person.” Similarly, the evidence that climate chaos is having profound negative effects on all that we value is strong, probably stronger than the evidence of effectiveness of many clinical interventions today. It may be that we worry too little about something (ageing, climate chaos…) that happens to us all – the theory being that suffering is more bearable and acceptable when it affects us all. This has led me to ask: what does a good end of life (and death) look like in an environmentally sustainable world? And it reinforces my belief that there is only one human characteristic more powerful (and therefore more dangerous) than denial, and that is mass denial.

David Pencheon is a UK trained public health doctor and is currently director of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit (England).

  • Mtmartin

    The quote often ascribed to Edmund Burke is “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Not sure he actually said this but he did say “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Take your pick! Good memories of our time at East Anglian RHA,David, best wishes, Margaret Martin

  • Dick Ockelton

    The trouble is, the suffering (unlike old age) will NOT apply to us all in the same timescale. Relative wealth will provide a cushion to our extravagant lifestyles long after the poorest have met with disaster as a result of our actions. All this “good vs evil” talk feels a bit Star Wars and runs the risk of polarising attitudes rather than encouraging unity in a common cause. Mobilise the kids, that's what I say. Once they truly grasp that we are merrily mucking up their futures and that of their children and grandchildren, and once they decide that conspicuous consumption by their parents and grandparents is actually distinctly “uncool”, they will be a force to be reckoned with. Nobody wants to lose the respect of their children (although with teenagers there is something sadly inevitable about that). David asks what a “good end of life” looks like. I would suggest that to feel that you did your best for the generations to come will be up there in the list, together with being respected by them. A potential future quote we might all like to consider is “They gave up all our tomorrows so they didn't have to change their todays. We will remember them!”