If you could send a message to yourself in the past, what would it say? Would you tell yourself not to miss that trip to Fire Island where you met your future husband? Would you say to take the risk and see what happens on that trip to Europe? Would you urge yourself to never, ever eat that many nachos again?
Now what if you were writing not to yourself, but to your future self, or even your children or grandchildren 100 years into the future? What would you want them to know? Would you want to share what your day-to-day life looks like, or would it be something more serious? Something perhaps more concrete and even dire?
More than forty alternative weekly publications came together to ask that question, asking scientists, authors and artists to craft letters to their children and grandchildren, and even great, great grandchildren, with their predictions of the upcoming Paris talks on climate for a program called “Letters to the Future”. Would the writers claim that we did everything possible to ensure a better future, or would they apologize for not having done more? Would they hypothesize about what the future would look like? What it could look like?
Here are a few of the more interesting snippets:
From astronaut Stephen Robinson, a tale of a fragile planet:
“If you look at Earth's atmosphere from orbit, you can see it "on edge"—gazing towards 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 sky—MY endless sky—was 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 tiny—maybe 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.”
A less hopeful tone from the author Pam Houston:
“...I'm sorry. For my generation. For our ignorance, our short-sightedness, our capacity for denial, our unwillingness or inability to stand up to the oil and gas companies that have bought our wilderness, our airwaves, our governments. It must seem to you that we were dense beyond comprehension, but some of us knew, for decades, that our carbon-driven period would be looked back on as the most barbaric, the most irresponsible age in history.”
And even stories of a better tomorrow, from Rhea Suh of the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“The wind turbines and solar panels that power your world, electric cars, high-speed trains, and solar airplanes weren't so commonplace in my time. They required a revolution in how we think about energy, about our relationship to the world, about our faith in our own capacity to innovate and change.
What took us so long? Sigh. It's a long story, but like many of the children's books you grew up with, it was a story of greed, short-sightedness, and wizards with too much gold. But against these challenges, sometimes with great bravery, people—young and old from every nation—stood up and demanded that we take the steps to curb this terrible scourge.”
Working in climate change education, I often think about the things we tell children today and the world that awaits them. If you could write a letter to those children’s children, what would you say?
Image Nick Chapman from Flickr