World leaders from more than 190 countries will convene in Paris during the first two weeks of December for the long-awaited United Nations Climate Change Conference. Will the governments of the world finally pass a binding global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming … or will they fail?
Letters to the Future, a national project involving more than 40 alternative weeklies across the United States, set out to find authors, artists, scientists and others willing to draft letters to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talksand the future that followed.
Some participants were optimistic about what is to come; others, not so much.
Jeffrey C. Billman
Dear future INDY readers: First off, you exist! That’s wonderfuland maybe a little surprising. In my time, newspapers are being written off as anachronisms to be gutted, hollowed out and sold for scrap. (Related: Is Twitter still a thing?) It’s good to know we survived, in one form or another. (Or maybe you’re reading this in a library archive? Oh well.)
Come to think of it, though, maybe that’s how my generation should be looking at things like coal and crude, bygone relics to be cast aside in a clean-energy future. But even a generation after we realized that releasing climate-shaking quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere might be a problem, the fossil-fuel industry’s clout and avarice remain largely unchecked. The tiniest steps toward a more sustainable future are met with ferocious resistance or outright denial. We’ve been cowards, afraid to own up to the consequences of our modernity, content to pass along the costs to our posterity.
But there came a point when our cowardice was indefensible.
That’s why, as your history books tell you, the Paris climate talks were so important. This was the moment that the world admitted we have a real problem that requires real solutions that may have real short-term pain, but the cost of inaction is, in the long run, much greater.
At least, for your sake, that’s how I hope it played out.
Billman is the INDY‘s editor in chief.
Dear descendants: The first thing to say is sorry. We were the last generation to know the world before full-on climate change made it a treacherous place. That we didn’t get sooner to work slowing it down is our great shame.
That said, I hope that we made at least some difference. There were many milestones in the fightRio, Kyoto, the debacle at Copenhagen. By the time the great Paris climate conference of 2015 rolled around, many of us were inclined to cynicism.
And our cynicism was well-taken. The delegates to that convention, representing governments that were still unwilling to take more than baby steps, didn’t really grasp the nettle. They looked for easy, around-the-edges fixes, ones that wouldn’t unduly alarm their patrons in the fossil-fuel industry.
But so many others seized the moment that Paris offered to do the truly important thing: organize. There were meetings and marches, disruptions and disobedience. And we came out of it more committed than ever to taking on the real powers that be.
The real changes flowed in the months and years past Paris, when people made sure that their institutions pulled money from oil and coal stocks, and when they literally sat down in the way of the coal trains and the oil pipelines. People did the work governments wouldn’tand as they weakened the fossil-fuel industry, political leaders grew ever-so-slowly bolder.
We learned a lot that year about where power lay: less in the words of weak treaties than in the zeitgeist we could create with our passion, our spirit and our creativity. Would that we had done it sooner!
An author, educator and environmentalist, McKibben is co-founder of 350.org, a planet-wide climate-change movement.
I just flushed my toilet with drinking water.
I know: You don’t believe me. “Nobody could ever have been that stupid, that wasteful.” But we are. We use air conditioners all the time, even in mild climates where they aren’t a bit necessary. We cool our homes so we need to wear sweaters indoors in summer, and heat them so we have to wear T-shirts in winter. We let one person drive around all alone in a huge thing called an SUV. We make perfectly good thingsplates, cups, knivesthen we use them just once and throw them away. They’re still there, in your time. Dig them up. They’ll still be useable.
Maybe you have dug them up. Maybe you’re making use of them now. Maybe you’re frugal and ingenious in ways we have not yet chosen to be. There’s an old teaching from a rabbi called Nachman who lived in a town called Bratslav centuries ago: “If you believe it is possible to destroy, believe it is possible to repair.” Some of us believe that. We’re trying to spread the message.
Friends are working on genetic editing that will bring back the heath hen, a bird that went extinct almost 80 years ago. Did we succeed? Do you have heath hens booming their mating calls across the sand plains that sustain them? If you do, it means that this idea of repair caught on in time. It means that enough great minds turned away from the easy temptations of a career moving money from one rich person’s account to another’s, and instead became engineers and scientists dedicated to repairing and preserving this small blue marble.
We send out probes looking for signs of life on other worlds. A possible spec of mold is excitingpress conference! News flash! Imagine if they found, say, a sparrow. President addresses the nation! And yet we fail to take note of the beauty of sparrows, their subtle hues and swift grace. We’re profligate and reckless with all this abundant life, teeming and vivid, that sustains and inspires us.
We destroyed. You believed it was possible to repair.
Brooks is an Australian-American journalist and author. Her 2005 novel, March, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Dear Madeline and Megan: I hope you’ve had a great day. I spent mine editing images from my recent trip to the Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument, the largest marine preserve off Hawaii’s coast. Looking at theses images, I celebrate that humans have the ability to protect and conserve. We all have the wonderful ability to think, analyze and act.
But we have fallen short when it comes to climate change. Still, I wish you could meet all the thinkers I have photographed about this important issue, so you could gain from their experiences and knowledge. I will do my best to “introduce” you to three:
George Divokyaka “the scientist who saw the future”has camped on Cooper Island, 20 miles off Alaska’s coast, for more than 30 years, documenting the migratory patterns of guillemots. He discovered changes in their migratory pattern, reproductive cycles and loss of food supply. After many years of dedicated research, he is finally getting people to believe that our earth and climate are changing, and that man is causing that change.
Perry Pungowiyi, a native Alaskan from the Savoonga Village, depends on the Arctic’s pack ice for his family and community’s survival. The ice brings walruses and seals, their main source of food and clothing. Without the ice, their way of life is changing.
Richard Alley, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, helped write our nation’s Nobel Prize-winning climate-change report to the United Nations. Through his examination of a 500,000-year-old ice-core sample, he documented changes in our climate. He analyzed gases trapped in the ice to show when humans started burning fossil fuels and the rise of CO2 that followed.
Climate change is real. It is caused by humans. While other regions of our planet are making changes, ours continues to debate and waste time.
A half-century from now, when you are my age, I hope you, too, can visit the Arctic and see polar bears, or whatever else it is you want to see. But more important, I hope you can look back at this time and celebrate America’s decision to protect and respect our planet. Do your part and keep exploring.
Tell your parents hello.
Howard is an Emmy Award-winning photographer and video producer based in North Carolina.
Stephen K. Robinson
Dear future Robinsons: Back around the turn of the century, flying to space was a rare human privilege, a dream come true, the stuff of movies (look it up) and an almost impossible ambition for children around the world.
But I was one of the fortunate. And what I saw from the cold, thick, protective windows of the space shuttle is something that, despite my 40 years of dreaming (I was never a young astronaut), I never remotely imagined.
Not that I was new to imagining things. As you may know, I was somehow born with a passion for the sky, for flight and for the mysteries of the atmosphere. I built and flew death-defying gliders, learned to fly properly, earned university degrees in the science of flight and then spent the rest of my life exploring Earth’s atmosphere from below, within and above. My hunger was never satisfied, and my love of flight never waned at all, even though it tried to kill me many times.
As I learned to fly in gliders, then small aircraft, then military jets, I always had the secure feeling that the atmosphere was the infinite “long delirious burning blue” of Magee’s poem, even though, of all people, I well knew about space and its nearness. It seemed impossible to believe that with just a little more power and a little more bravery, I couldn’t continue to climb higher and higher on “laughter-silvered wings.” My life was a celebration of the infinite gift of sky, atmosphere and flight.
But what I saw in the first minutes of entering space, following that violent, life-changing rocket ride, shocked me.
If you look at Earth’s atmosphere from orbit, you can see it “on edge”gazing toward the horizon, with the black of space above and the gentle curve of the yes-it’s-round planet below. And what you see is the most exquisite, luminous, delicate glow of a layered azure haze holding the Earth like an ethereal eggshell. “That’s it?!” I thought. The entire skymy endless skywas only a paper-thin blue wrapping of the planet, and looking as tentative as frost.
And this is the truth. Our Earth’s atmosphere is fragile and shockingly tinymaybe 4 percent of the planet’s volume. Of all the life we know about, only one species has the responsibility to protect that precious blue planet-wrap. I hope we did, and I hope you do.
After 36 years as an astronautwith a tenure that included four shuttle missions and three spacewalksRobinson retired from NASA in 2012. He is now a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Davis.
Kim Stanley Robinson
Dear great-great-grandchildren: I’ve been worried about you for a long time. For years it’s seemed like all I could say to you was, “Sorry, we torched the planet and now you have to live like saints.” Not a happy message. But recently I’ve seen signs that we might give you a better result. At this moment the issue is still in doubt. But a good path leading from me to you can be discerned.
It was crucial that we recognized the problem, because otherwise we wouldn’t have acted as we did. A stupendous effort by the global scientific community alerted us to the fact that our civilization, by dumping carbon into the air and disrupting biosphere processes in many other ways, was creating a toxic combination that was going to wreak havoc on all Earth’s living creatures, including us. When we learned that, we tried to change.
Our damaging impact was caused by a combination of the sheer number of people, the types of technologies we used and how much we consumed. We had to change in each area, and we did. We invented cleaner technologies to replace dirtier ones; this turned out to be the easiest part. When it came to population growth, we saw that wherever women had full educations and strong legal rights, population growth stopped and the number of humans stabilized; thus justice was both good in itself and good for the planet.
The third aspect of the problem, our consumption levels, depended on our values, which are always encoded in our economic system. Capitalism was wrecking the biosphere and people’s lives to the perceived benefit of very few. So we changed it. We charged ourselves the proper price for burning carbon; we enacted a progressive tax on all capital assets as well as incomes. With that money newly released to positive work, we paid ourselves a living wage to do ecological restoration, to feed ourselves and to maintain the biosphere we knew you were going to need.
Those changes taken all together mean you live in a post-capitalist world: congratulations. I’m sure you are happier for it. Creating that new economic system was our best achievement, and because of it, we can look you in the eye and say, “Enjoy it, care for it, pass it on.”
A winner of the Nebula and Hugo awards, Robinson has published 19 novels, including the award-winning Mars trilogy.
Shelia Smith McKoy
Dear great-great-great ones: I have thought of you often these last few days, wondering if you are connected to your African roots, your global roots, wondering where you are in the world. I hope that you have had the chance to see the startling beauty of Earth from many places, not just from the place that you call home. I hope that you have had the chance to plant seeds and watch them grow. I hope you know the feeling of your hands in dirt.
As I write this letter, my world is being shaped by decisions that have been made in the interest of greed. Perhaps we have intervened. Perhaps these decisions have not prevented you from knowing the feel of red clay under your feet or the pull of the ocean’s current as the waves run back to their source. The powers that be are preparing to meet in Paris, though I know that many of them are armed largely with self-interest, a desire for more power and an indifference toward difference.
There are days that I fear that we have failed you. Maybe we will not be able to stop fracking. Maybe we will not flinch when oil is harvested from pristine places we thought were safe.
Then there are days like today, when I believe in our power to change the world. Perhaps we have realized that we cannot afford to acquiesce to those we call “they.” “They” believe that our Earth is disposable. “They” think that theyonly theycan go to another planet and start again, or that their version of God has given them dominion over the Earth, or that they can deny the climate changes that may soon have islands of the world under water.
I believe that we have held “them” at bay. I believe that you exist.
Somehow, I know that we changed attitudes about climate change, about the value of individual lives, about the Earth, about so many things. Somewhere, you are reading this letter with tomatoes growing in your yard, near an ocean where you can still swim, in a place where everyone and every being, especially the Earth, is valued.
Smith McKoy is a professor, poet, fiction writer, health activist and Raleigh native.
As a young boy growing up in Searchlight, the unique beauty of the Nevada desert was my home. Our family didn’t travel or take vacations, but we were able to visit Fort Piute Springs, which was just 15 miles from our home. Fort Piute Springs was a starkly beautiful place. From the gushing ponds of water to the beautiful lily pads and cattails, Fort Piute’s beauty was magical. Decades later I returned to visit Fort Piute Springs and found the magical place of my childhood in ruins. I remember thinking how sad it was that my descendants would never get to appreciate the stark beauty of the desert I cherished as a child. It was in that moment that I decided to fight to protect our environment.
Throughout my career I fought to protect my home and my country from the permanent damage of climate change. I thought about the world you would live in, the burdens you would face and the health issues that could one day challenge your very existence. You deserve a chance to experience the beautiful world that I grew up in. We all need clean air, clean water and natural resources to lead healthy lives. The idea that our actions could jeopardize your future was simply unbearable.
The only way to solve this problem was if we all worked together to save the planet for you and future generations. During my lifetime, the overwhelming majority of scientists across the world concluded that pollution from burning fossil fuels was beginning to raise temperatures and alter our climate. These scientists predicted that if countries failed to work together to replace fossil fuels with cleaner energy sources, the world would face uncontrollable rising temperatures and sea levels, water shortages, climate-fueled migration crises, and landscape-altering wildfire, drought and extreme weather.
At the close of 2015, the world finally did something about it. Everybody knew we needed to address climate change and that a failure to lead could destroy the progress we fought so hard to achieve and endanger your future. In the face of this reality, the United States pressed on and led a historic global agreement to change the course of climate change worldwide.
I’m proud of the work we did to protect our environment for you. I hope by now you can run just about everything on renewable energy, and you no longer have to worry about whether your children will suffer from asthma because of smog.
Today you may face a number of issues I could have never imagined. My hope has always been that the United States’ efforts to combat climate change would create a cleaner future for my descendants and future Nevadans. I hope that you are no longer burdened with the issue of climate change and can enjoy more of the Nevada I have always known. But if you face similar challenges, draw strength from my experiences and continue to fight for a cleaner environment.
Reid, D-Nevada, is the U.S. Senate Minority Leader.
Good day, my beautiful bounty. It probably feels redundant to someone rockin’ in 2070, a year that’s gotta be wavy in ways I can’t imagine, but … your great-great-grandpappy is old school.
And when my old-school ass thinks about how the backdrop to your existence changed when the Paris climate talks failed, it harkens to the late-20th-century rap duo Eric B. & Rakim. Music is forever. Probably, it sounds crazy that the musical idiom best known in your time as the foundation of the worldwide cough syrup industry could ever have imparted anything enlightening. You can look it up, thoughbefore the Telecommunications Act of 1996 such transformations happened not infrequently.
But that’s another letter. MC Rakim had this scrap of lyric from “Teach the Children”a pro-environment slapper that hit the atmosphere closer to Exxon Valdez newspaper-headline days than when the web gave us pictures of smoke plumes taking rise above Iraq.
For you, these are abstract epochs. Alaska still had permafrost, the formerly frozen soil that kept methane safely underground. The domino that fell, permafrost. And I could tell you that humans skied Earth’s mountains. Yes, I know: snow. An antique reference, no question.
That Rakim verse. It went:
Teach the children, save the nation/I see the destruction, the situation/They’re corrupt, and their time’s up soon/But they’ll blow it up and prepare life on the moon
My bounty, it’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback* from my 2015 vantage point. But I did not do an adequate job of teaching the children about what our corporate overlords had in store for them. Didn’t do it with Exxon or Volkswagen. Didn’t do it when Rakim initially sold me on the premise. And, to be honest, I haven’t done a bunch of it this year, as sinkholes form and trees fall in parts of the Arctic that Mother Earth could have only ever imagined frozen solid.
Make no mistake, I want these words to function as much as a godspeed note as one of confession. Good luck with your new methane-dictated normal, and the sonic pollution and spiritual upset of those executive flights to colonized Mars. Conditions should have never come to this, though. And we’ll always have Paris, to remind us of what might have been.
*The NFL will be around forever, like herpes.
Alexander is a former staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and LA Weekly and author of the memoir Ghetto Celebrity.
Dear friends in the future: I wish I could tell you that, as the world’s top scientists rang the alarm increasingly over the past 15 years about our overheating planet, U.S. leaders, corporations and activists rose above differences, profits and power to develop an inspiring, cooperative effort to avert runaway climate catastrophe.
Sadly, we aren’t there yet, though the activists are gaining ground. Surreal as it seems, it’s not clear that the American public will face reality by getting organized enough to demand that corporate polluters help slow this planetary emergency. I wish I could tell you that as bizarre weather came to dominate world news in recent years, devastating wildlife and millions of people, and as citizens of most nations demanded real changes, lots of Americans finally got in the game. I appreciate those who are deeply committed, but all of the climate-justice groups need more help.
Maybe it’s finally starting to happen. It needs to happen faster.
In the summer of 2015, leading experts warned that oceans could rise 10 feet within 50 years unless we began reducing global carbon emissions immediately. Climate protection groups are now redoubling efforts to demand that corporate laggards embraceor yield tothe renewable-energy technologies that are currently cheaper than coal, nuclear and fracking-gas fuels.
My home state, North Carolina, is crucial in this fight as the base for the world’s largest corporate utility and leading laggard, Duke Energy.
I’m part of a growing alliance calling for the state’s attorney general, Roy Cooper, to assert his constitutional authority over Duke Energy and require that its executives help slow global warming instead of making it worse by expanding the burning of fossil fuels while blocking clean-energy competition. Duke is the largest utility polluter in the U.S. Requiring it to decarbonize can create a positive moment toward slowing climate disruption, despite the lateness of the hour.
It’s heartening to be allied with courageous African-American faith and social justice leaders in this effort. We’re trying to convince other civic leaders that the climate struggle is about more than saving energy at home or church. We must assert public sovereignty over corporate polluters and government officials. This Emergency Climate Response campaign is challenging Duke’s recent commitment toward a fracking-gas futurefilled with methane leakage from wells, pipelines and unneeded power plants.
I hope I can soon say that as the tipping point toward the collapse of humanity looms ever closer, our society is finally wise enough to balance the immense time and energy we pour into toys and entertainment with the need for active civic engagement.
As the climate-change asteroid charges toward Earth, we’re imploring our neighbors to realize that feeling concerned is not enough, and that taking action is empowering.
I deeply hope we won’t have left a chaotic planet for you.
Warren is the executive director of NC Warn, a nonprofit focused on shifting North Carolina to a clean-energy economy.
Dear future family: I know you will not read this note until the turn of the century, but I want to explain what things were like back in 2015, before we figured out how to roll back climate change. As a civilization, we were still locked into a zero-sum idea of our relationship with the natural world, in which we assumed that for us to get whatever we needed, whether it was food or energy or entertainment, nature had to be diminished. But that was never necessarily the case.
In our time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still handed out subsidies to farmers for every bushel of corn or wheat or rice they could grow. This promoted a form of agriculture that was extremely productive and extremely destructiveof the climate, among other things.
Approximately one-third of the carbon then in the atmosphere had formerly been sequestered in soils in the form of organic matter, but since we began plowing and deforesting, we’d been releasing huge quantities of this carbon into the atmosphere. At that time, the food system as a wholethat includes agriculture, food processing and food transportationcontributed somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by civilization, more than any other sector except energy. Fertilizer was always one of the biggest culprits for two reasons: It’s made from fossil fuels, and when you spread it on fields and it gets wet, it turns into nitrous oxide, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Slowly, we convinced policymakers to instead give subsidies to farmers for every increment of carbon they sequestered in the soil.
Over time, we began to organize our agriculture so that it could heal the planet, feed us and tackle climate change. This began with shifting our food system from its reliance on oil, which is the central fact of industrial agriculture (not just machinery, but pesticides and fertilizers are all oil-based technologies), back to a reliance on solar energyphotosynthesis.
Carbon farming was one of the most hopeful things going on at that time in climate-change research. We discovered that plants secrete sugars into the soil to feed the microbes they depend on, in the process putting carbon into the soil. This process of sequestering carbon at the same time improved the fertility and water-holding capacity of the soil. We began relying on the sunon photosynthesisrather than on fossil fuels to feed ourselves. We learned that there were non-zero-sum ways we could feed ourselves and heal the earth. That was just one of the big changes we made toward the sustainable food system you are lucky enough to take for granted.
Pollan is a teacher, author and speaker on the environment, agriculture and the food industry. His letter is adapted from an interview in Vice magazine.
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
Dear descendants: If you are reading this, then you must exist, and so my greatest fears haven’t been realized. We didn’t manage to eradicate our kind from the universe. In my darkest hours, routinely arriving at 4 in the morning, that’s what I feared, a universe in which our species had disappeared, taking along with it many other life forms that had once flourished on Earth. I’d lie awake mourning all those life forms, butcall me anthropocentricmost especially the humans. A universe emptied of humans, with all of our fancies and follies, seemed to me an immeasurably reduced universe.
So at least you existonly under what conditions I can’t begin to imagine. I don’t know whether you’re reading this on Earth and, if you are, whether you’re huddled inside an artificial environment to protect yourself from deadly radiation. Or perhaps you’ve colonized another planet or built a system of space stations, using your human ingenuity to adapt to an alien environment for which evolution didn’t naturally equip you. Perhaps you only know about what it was like to welcome each changing season on Earthsmell the fecund, moist earth of spring, feel the silky sultriness of summer nights, listen to the silence of snow falling heavily in the forestby reading the writings of us ancients.
Wherever you are, struggling with whatever hostile conditions are constraining the choices we took for granted, you must look back at your ancestorsuswith outraged incredulity. How could we not have cared about you at all, you wonder? You are our kith and kin. Didn’t we consider that you deserved the same rights to flourish that we presumed for ourselves?
It’s ironic, because we often looked back at our ancestors with outraged incredulity, wondering how they couldn’t have seen, say, that slavery and misogyny were wrong.Were they moral monsters? we’d wonder. Do you wonder exactly the same about us?
Well, we weren’t monsters. Really, we weren’t. We were human, all too human. And being human, we tended to prioritize our own lives, our own self-interest, over those of others. It’s not that other selves meant nothing at all to us. But our own selves always meant so much more.
And here’s another feature of our evolution-shaped human nature that, through no malice at all, conspired to doom you. (You understand, I’m not justifying our behavior, just trying to explain it to you.) We discounted the future. The future seemed so hazy, so uncertain, while the present … well, it was present. The now was vividly pressing on us, real and fully formed.
Our psychology evolved out of a past when human life was “nasty, brutish and short.” And because we weren’t able to overcome that psychology, to think in ways larger and more generous, the future we’ve bequeathed you is at least as precarious as the past out of which we emerged. I fear it is unimaginably nasty.
You just weren’t very real to us, you others who didn’t even enjoy the privilege of existing. How could your claims, so ghostly as to be ungraspable, rein in our desires? And we were so inventive in our technologies, which pelted us with more and more things to want, amusements to distract us from what we should have been thinking aboutwhich was you.
Now it’s we who no longer exist. Perhaps you’d just as soon forget about our existence as we forgot about yours. If only you could, I imagine you thinking. If only you could blot us out of your consciousness just as thoroughly as we blotted you out of ours.
If there are still storytellers among you, if that’s a human capacity that you can still indulge, then do a better job than we did in making the lives of others felteach and every life, when its time comes, a towering importance.
May you flourish. May you forgive us.
A philosopher and novelist, Goldstein won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” and was recently presented the National Humanities Medal.
Dear great-great-great grandchildren: How I would love to scoop you up and give you kisses. How I would love to show you some of my favorite things on this Earth. I’d take you to the important places, places my dad took me and his dad took him. We have a long relationship with mountains. My dad’s family spent many summer weekends at a campground called Carolina Hemlocks. His love of North Carolina’s mountains grew, and he passed it along to me.
One of our early trips was backpacking. We took a few cans of soup and no tent. We didn’t have the GoreTex, titanium pots and gravity filters that I take backpacking with my kids now. Roughing it was not my mom’s cup of tea, but I fell in love. The smell of the fir trees and the sound of the gurgling creek were magical. Dad and I would hike on the Appalachian Trail as often as we could. We went rafting on the French Broad River. The way the river rushed around huge boulders and through those beautiful mountains was intoxicating. I shared all of that with my children, and they also fell in love.
We noticed changes as the years went by. The towering hemlocks at the campground began to die. They became infested with an insect from China. Only half the number my dad saw in the 1950s remained. As I am writing this, scientists at N.C. State are working on ways to curb the insect’s population. They haven’t had much luck yet.
As a young reporter in the 1990s, I did a series of stories on acid rain, sulfur-dioxide pollution mostly from coal-fired power plants and auto emissions. It was killing all the trees on top of Grandfather Mountain. Back in 1990, the Clean Air Act preceded North Carolina’s Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002. Sulfur-dioxide pollution emissions have since been cut by 30–40 percent. Mercury emissions have been cut by 70 percent.
But it will take a while to reverse the effects of this pollution. The National Park Service did a study along the Appalachian Trail this year showing that, while streams in the northern United States are recovering, 40 percent of our southern streams still have high acid content. These levels are still too high for brook trout and some aquatic insects. My son, Max, is an enthusiastic fisherman, and he can spot a trout from 30 feet away. I hope you are able to catch trout with your dad.
Warming temperatures across the globe are threatening the ecosystems that thrive in our cool mountaintop climates. Spruce, fir, endangered salamanders and saw-whet owls are suffering. Even though there’s been a reduction in acid rain and mercury emissions, warmer temperatures will kill the spruce and fir. The ecosystems at elevations above 5,500 feet remain from the last ice age; as temperatures warm, they will disappear.
The good news is that we humans have been able to hang on for 200,000 years, and I hope that lasts. I hope that all of your relatives have had a strong connection to the mountains and rivers and cared for them, and I hope you are doing the same. It’s comforting to think of you visiting those important placeshiking with your dad through the woods, floating down the river, spotting that trout from 30 feet away.
Gardner is an Emmy Award-winning meteorologist for WRAL in Raleigh.
It’s hard to imagine writing to the granddaughter of my own daughter, but if you’re anything like herstrong, smart, occasionally a little stubbornthen I have no doubt the world is in good hands.
By now your school should have taught you about climate change, and how humans helped to bring it about with our big cars, big homes, big appetites and an endless desire for more stuff. But what the teachers and textbooks may not have passed on are the stories of incredible people who helped make sure the planet remained beautiful and livable for you.
These are stories of everyday people doing courageous things, because they couldn’t stand by and watch communities poisoned by pollution, the Arctic melt or California die of fire and drought. They couldn’t bear to think of New Orleans under water again or New York lost to a superstorm. Right now, as politicians weigh options and opinion polls, people are organizing and uprising. It’s amazing to see and be a part of.
In the year that led up to the 2015 meeting of global leaders on climate change in Paris, kayakers took to the water to stop oil rigs. Nurses, musicians, grannies, preachers and even beekeepers took to the streets. The message was loud and clear: “We want clean, safe, renewable energy now!”
Were it not for this glorious rainbow of people power, I don’t know whether President Obama would have stepped up and canceled oil drilling in the Alaskan Arctic or the sale of 10 billion tons of American coal that were set to tip the planet toward climate chaos. But he did. This paved the way for an era of unprecedented innovation, as entrepreneurs and academics fine-tuned the best ways to harness the unlimited power of our wind, waves and sun and make it available to everyone. We’ve just seen the first-ever oceanic crossing by a solar plane, and I can only imagine what incredible inventions have grown in your time from the seeds planted in this energy revolution we’re experiencing right now.
I want to tell you about this because there was a time we didn’t think any of it was possible. And there may be times when you face similar challenges. Generations before you have taken acts of great courage to make sure you too have all the joys and gifts of the natural worldhiking in forests, swimming in clean water, breathing fresh air. If you need to be a little stubborn to make sure things stay that way, so be it.
Leonard is the executive director of Greenpeace USA.
Hello? People of the future … Anyone there? It’s your forebears checking in with you from generations ago. We were the stewards of the Earth in 2015a dicey time for the planet, humankind and life itself. And … well, how’d we do? Anyone still there? Hello.
A gutsy, innovative and tenacious environmental movement arose around the globe back then to try lifting common sense to the highest levels of industry and government. We had made great progress in developing a grassroots consciousness about the suicidal consequences for us (as well as those of you future earthlings) if we didn’t act pronto to stop the reckless industrial pollution that was causing climate change. Our message was straightforward: When you realize you’ve dug yourself into a hole, the very first thing to do is stop digging.
Unfortunately, our grassroots majority was confronted by an elite alliance of narcissistic corporate greedheads and political boneheads. They were determined to deny environmental reality in order to grab more short-term wealth and power for themselves. Centuries before this, some Native American cultures adopted a wise ethos of deciding to take a particular action only after contemplating its impact on the seventh generation of their descendants. In 2015, however, the ethos of the dominant powers was to look no further into the future than the three-month forecast of corporate profits.
As I write this letter to the future, delegations from the nations of our world are gathering to consider a global agreement on steps we can finally take to rein in the looming disaster of global warming. But at this convocation and beyond, will we have the courage for boldness, for choosing people and the planet over short-term profits for the few? The people’s movement is urging the delegates in advance to remember that the opposite of courage is not cowardice, it’s conformityjust going along with the flow. After all, even a dead fish can go with the flow, and if the delegates don’t dare to swim against the corporate current, we’re all dead.
So did we have the courage to start doing what has to be done? Hello … anyone there?
Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and New York Times best-selling author.