What’s a Good Ancestor, and How Can I Be One?

Geoff and Bev Ainscow

Climate change is something that will impact generations to come. That’s why my wife Bev and I decided our main goal is to help pass down a world in which our seven-year-old grandson’s great-grandchildren can say, “Our good ancestors, back in the early 21st century, stopped using coal and burning fossil fuels for our sake. Because of them, we have a healthier, cleaner planet today.”

This idea spurred Bev and I to put together our Good Ancestors  video last summer, which ended up being a very fun project. Although Bev didn’t live to see this finished result, she and I were both happy knowing that our 1962 Sunnyvale home would help show that being a good ancestor is easier than you might think – and more fun, convenient, and affordable too:

Sometimes when I talk to people about the environment, I get comments like “We’ll have to give up too much – it’ll be like going back to the Stone Age and living in caves!” I’m hoping this video, and the Good Ancestor work, will put those comments to rest.

If Stone Age people lived in caves as delightful as our house, sign me up! Bev and I had a wonderful life here for thirty years, both before and after the “eco-facelift” that you saw in the video. Our lives got only more comfortable and pleasant after electrifying them.

Since the video explains how we gave our old house a second life with clean energy and electrification, I want to explain why we did so here.

What Is a Good Ancestor?

Personally, Bev and I have worked to be good ancestors since 1977, when we first read a report called “The Limits to Growth.” I remember being shocked when I realized that you cannot have continuous growth on a finite planet. If everyone in the world used up as many resources as the average American, we’d need 4.5 Earths to sustain them all. And we only have one.

So ever since then, Bev and I have worked with various organizations to study how we can live within the limits of this planet. The big question lingers: how do we live now to produce a healthy, livable future for our descendants?

How Can I Be a Good Ancestor?

The answer begins simply: to be a good ancestor, be a good neighbor.

In our deeply interconnected world, everyone is our neighbor. With seven billion-plus people sharing one small planet, we’re all connected. We all have to live within the limits of the earth, which is why those of us in resource-intensive countries can’t continue trashing it. The axiom “treat thy neighbor as thyself” is more relevant today than ever before.

Based on where I grew up and now live, I’m British and American. But I’m also a citizen of the world, and responsible for leaving a better one to those who come after.

Happiness Is Enough

People think that using fewer resources means they’ll have to give up comforts and conveniences and live more limited lives. Fortunately, in my experience, the exact opposite is true.

Clean energy and batteries, electric cars and bikes, locally grown food, electric appliances — all of these clean technologies work as well or better than their fossil fuel counterparts. They more than suffice for everything we need to have a pleasant, comfortable home. (For example, my electric heater is 3 times more efficient than its fossil-fuel predecessor!)

The big change is actually in our minds, especially in our view of growth. Every time I watch reports on the stock market, the economy, and inflation, it’s all with one assumption: only limitless economic growth will make us happy. We all should want to always get wealthier, bigger, and faster. Enough is never enough, which is an unsustainable mindset.

Our job is to change our idea of growth from “get more stuff,” to “learn how to grow better and healthier relationships.” My relationships with Bev, our children and grandchildren, our friends, and our community have always brought me the most happiness.

Everything else? Enough is enough.

Gifting a Hopeful Future

Those in our generation can go one of two ways: we can stick to the fossil-fuel-burning path we’re on now, which has already resulted in the loss of a stable climate, or we can enjoy the same lifestyle in a way that will gift a healing world to our descendants. Bev’s and my house shows it’s possible to live comfortably and happily while being good ancestors to our grandson’s generation, and all those who will come after.

If you want to learn more about being a good ancestor, reach out to the Switch Is On. And if you happen to pass through Sunnyvale, stop by for a chat; like in the video, my garden gate and front door are always open!