Last fall, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report predicting irreversible, apocalyptic conditions by 2040 if immediate actions weren’t taken, at once and everywhere, to curb rising carbon dioxide levels. That same day, I lectured on personal finance to the musicians in my classes at the New England Conservatory.
How do you teach compound interest and retirement savings when the very possibility of continued life on this planet seems to be called into greater question with each passing week? Everyone knows it’s tough to make a living as a musician. Up until now, though, living itself – that is, remaining alive – was mostly assumed. My students will be 40 to 45 years old in 2040 – around the age I was when retirement savings suddenly became salient to me. I told them there could be no guarantees, but I wish I had taken advantage of compound interest when I was their age. I told them I grew up in the tail end of the Cold War, and we lived with the threat of annihilation then, too. I told them that cultures and systems can change. When I started school, you could smoke cigarettes in the classroom.