*A Convenient Untruth

Almost nothing interests me less than does climate change and anything else that comes under the umbrella of ‘the destruction of the planet’. However, one thing I will give the environmental movement credit for is the way in which it assists modern-day high-school students to disguise as social awareness their natural disinclination to study.

Back when I was doing my HSC, young people were claiming to be preoccupied with the spectre of nuclear annihilation. In those days, your school having even just the one computer was an extremely big deal, and the fact that, we were told, the next world war was almost upon us seemed closely connected with the advent of these machines. Many of my fellow students and I had been deeply affected by the film WarGames, in which a computer allowed David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) not merely to change his high school grades but almost single-handedly send the United States to war with Russia. This state of affairs unfolds because the computer challenges Lightman to play a game between the two countries; he then needs to convince the machine (as though it were a human being) that he had simply wanted diversion, not nuclear apocalypse. Surely I wasn’t the only young person who was certain that just one class of ‘Computer Studies’ would put me a mere step away from a Lightmanesque mistake.

And WarGames was only the half of it. Back then, high school students seemed particularly to enjoy making poorly acted and produced films about the progress of their last night on earth before the bomb hit. Professional filmmakers also seemed to enjoy making badly acted and produced films on variations of this theme – to wit, 1984’s One Night Stand, about four formerly heedless young people who are trapped in the Sydney Opera House the night that nuclear war breaks out and in which the action is interspersed with footage of what seems to be an especially boring Midnight Oil concert. (Speaking of whom, in those days Midnight Oil were regarded as nothing less than soothsayers.) Back in the classroom, ‘General Studies’ primarily consisted of earnest conversations about what you would keep in your bomb shelter and would you really want still to live if you were the last person left alive? (Yes, I would – particularly if I were the last person left alive.)

Newspaper articles about the youth often focused on the ‘tribes’ (in those days, primarily so-called ‘punks’, ‘mods’, ‘skins’ and ‘rude boys’) that teenagers joined. But whether the pieces were about these exotic creatures or just regular youths wearing, perhaps, windcheaters, or t-shirts with Ace Frehley transfers on them, they would always feature one of them saying, ‘I just can’t see the point in studying as we’re all going to die any day now.’ I couldn’t see the point in studying either but this was all to do with my preference for watching re-runs of That Girl, reading magazines, talking to my best friend on the phone for at least two hours a day and taking frequent little naps.

And nowadays, young people have so many more distractions than I did twenty or so years ago. It’s a miracle to me that any of them ever opens a textbook at all when they could be watching things on the internet. And the threat of the next Ice Age (or whatever it is that is supposed to take place due to occasionally leaving a light on overnight), hanging over their heads must make a clip of, for example, a kitten rowing a boat even more enticing.

In my view, climate change is well and truly going to end up going the way of the Cold War and the millennium bug: that is, become a relic of a more innocent period. But if the threat of it enables teenagers to be lazy using the time-honoured excuse that soon there will be no world as we know it anyway, I can start to feel more enthusiastic about all the attention it receives. As well, the fact that today’s youth have the brains to continue the grand tradition of cloaking indolence in a pose of being concerned about something taking place outside their bedrooms makes me feel a good deal fonder of them, and certainly much less as though I’d like to see them all sent to fight in a war.

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