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Greens MP Chlöe Swarbrick. Photo/Getty Images

Bill Ralston: Why I'm saying sorry, millennial

Fair call – we really have screwed the planet, but there were some good bits along the way.

Okay, boomer. Two words uttered as a smiling aside by Greens MP Chlöe Swarbrick to an interjection in Parliament and the world shuddered. Well, a mild exaggeration, but it was widely reported here and overseas.

It’s a catchphrase used by millennials as a mild put-down to oldies. My hero, William Shatner, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, was recently moved to chastise a young person who used it on him. What Spock thinks of “Okay boomer” is unclear, but he’d probably say something like, “Live long and prosper,” which, incidentally, is what the millennials seem to be objecting to us doing.

I digress. Swarbrick was having her say on the Zero Carbon Bill and, like many people her age, seems to believe that baby boomers have broken the planet. She’s right, I guess, but at the time we didn’t notice that we had.

Read more: The OK, boomer uproar blotted out an important intergenerational moment

Back in the day, we did stop the Vietnam War, ended apartheid, halted French nuclear testing in the Pacific, had a good time at Woodstock and pioneered amateur research into the efficacy of marijuana, which I’m sure Swarbrick would agree were all positive moves.

It’s unfortunate that we were also busy polluting our rivers, despoiling the land and heating the planet in the blind pursuit of profit. I can understand why our children might disapprove. We really did take our eye off the ball.


Swarbrick’s generation are stepping up to fix our mess. In her parliamentary address, she mentioned that by 2050, she would be 56 years old. I expect to be pushing up daisies by then so it’s far too late for me to do much. By the way, when she is 56, she will probably have her own children turning a critical eye on the deficiencies of her generation.

Perhaps the worst advertisement for my generation is Donald Trump, born at the beginning of the baby boom. That the US President is also Climate-Change Denier-in-Chief is simply outrageous. It is probably another indictment of boomers that people of our age put him in office.

An Australia that is burning to a crisp is proof enough that humans have had a very bad effect on the land and it is high time we set about dialling back on global warming. I live in a little house on a big beach just a few metres above the high-tide mark. If climate change isn’t halted now, I might well be grateful to be undertaking the Big Sleep by 2050. The likelihood is that the melting polar ice caps will ensure the house is floating far out to sea by then.

To Swarbrick and the millennial generation, I apologise. We have messed up. We gave you computers, social media, Netflix and the rest but we somehow managed to miss the fact that we were screwing up the planet we expected you to live in.

Profit is probably the reason we were oblivious to the effects of what we were doing. We were too busy amassing money to make the lifestyle changes needed to protect the Earth.

As my generation drifts off into retirement, we pass the controls of the economy and the environment to the Swarbricks of the world.

You can dismiss us with an “okay, boomer” – we probably deserve it. We wrecked the planet.

But, I must say, our music was a lot better than yours is.

This column was first published in the November 23, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.