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 in this task?
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 get creative and draft letters to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks—and what came after.
Some participants were optimistic about what is to come—some not so much.
We hereby present some of their visions of the future.
Where I Place My Greatest Hope
To my 35 year-old child,
When you read this it will be 2050. Right now you are seven months in the womb. When I see you now—your heart thumping in colorless ultrasounds—I am mesmerized by your beauty, your innocence, your potential. I know that by the time you read this you will have seen a lot, you will have seen too much.
In 2015, my child, we hear a lot of climate predictions for what the world will be like in 2050; these forecasts are frightening. For example, the common projection for climate refugees—people on the move due to hellacious typhoons or hurricanes, rapid sea level rise, or disastrous droughts—is 200 million. But who would've known, as long ago as 2015, that Arizonans would be among the uprooted?
Todd Miller currently writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas, The Nation and is an occasional contributor to the Tucson Weekly. His first book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security, was published by City Lights Publishers in 2014.
Dearest Future generations,
I sit here wondering if you are reading this letter here on Earth amidst dire food shortages, droughts and depletion of our natural landscapes brought by out of control climate change and the lack of understanding from our generation of the importance to make changes now.
Its with a heavy heart that I admit that there are so many people on our planet at this time who still don't think climate change exists, that your generation may not have the world we do now.
I do hope that the world's leaders convening in Paris for the U.N. Climate talks next month, December 2015 address our world's impending issues surrounding climate change. It may be your last hope....
Artist, muralist in Tucson, Arizona, who's artwork is a direct expression of her Chicana culture, political issues, social issues and environmental issues. Melo enjoys using creativity and activism to create a difference throughout the Tucson community.
We Learned How to Get Along
Dear Little One,
As I write this letter your grandmother, Nora, has just turned one-year old. I have no doubt that, should you be born, you will be every bit as curious, confident and delighted by life as she is right now.
It saddens me beyond words to think that you may never be.
But that is what our scientists tell us will happen if we do not act now to save our planet.
There are leaders from 190 nations meeting in Paris right now to make a plan. They've been meeting for the past 20 years and haven't been able to agree. For the life of me, I don't know what they're thinking. They don't seem to be thinking about you. Maybe this time. Because we are almost out of time.
Kelly Fryer is CEO of YWCA of Southern Arizona, which is dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women. She and her wife Tana have three grown children and one grandchild. They love their family, good food and their adopted hometown Tucson.
Is there life on Mars?
A letter to my daughter—a woman who could exist:
Now that survival is less of a question for us, I want you to know where you've come from.
By now it's pretty clear, they left us. What you probably don't know is how quickly everything changed—but maybe it just seemed that way to me. It began, as so many things did in those times, with a few press releases. "NASA announces water sources on Mars." "NASA builds terraforming station on Martian surface."
It was just another bunch of headlines until the first colonizers were sent off less than a year later. Then seven years after that, there was a fully functioning, relatively self-sustaining base on the surface of the big red planet.
Heather Hoch is current the Food & Culture Editor of the Tucson Weekly.
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 2015—a 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.
A national radio commentator, writer and public speaker, Hightower is also a New York Times best selling author.
Shift the Food System
LetterDear 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 destructive—of 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 whole—that includes agriculture, food processing, and food transportation—contributed somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by civilization—more than any other sector except energy.
A teacher, author and speaker on the environment, agriculture, the food industry, society and nutrition, Pollan's letter is adapted from an interview in Vice Magazine.
My Endless Sky
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 the world around.
But I was one of those fortunates. 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 it, within it, and above it. My hunger was never satisfied, and my love of flight never waned at all, even though it tried to kill me many times.
After 36 years as an astronaut—with a tenure that included four shuttle missions and three spacewalks—Robinson retired from NASA in 2012. He is now a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Davis.
Sorry About That
Dear Rats of the Future: Congratulations on your bipedalism: it's always nice to be able to stand tall when you need it, no? And great on losing that tail too (just as we lost ours). No need for that awkward (and let's face it: ugly) kind of balancing tool when you walk upright, plus it makes fitting into your blue jeans a whole lot easier. Do you wear blue jeans—or their equivalent? No need, really, I suppose, since you've no doubt retained your body hair. Well, good for you.
Sorry about the plastics. And the radiation. And the pesticides. I really regret that you won't be hearing any birdsong anytime soon, either, but at least you've got that wonderful musical cawing of the crows to keep your mornings bright. And, of course, I do expect that as you've grown in stature and brainpower you've learned to deal with the feral cats, your one-time nemesis, but at best occupying a kind of ratty niche in your era of ascendancy. As for the big cats—the really scary ones, tiger, lion, leopard, jaguar—they must be as remote to you as the mammoths were to us. It goes without saying that with the extinction of the bears (polar bears: they were a pretty silly development anyway, and of no use to anybody beyond maybe trophy hunters) and any other large carnivores, there's nothing much left to threaten you as you feed and breed and find your place as the dominant mammals on earth. (I do expect that the hyenas would have been something of a nasty holdout, but as you developed weapons, I'm sure you would have dispatched them eventually).
A novelist and short story writer, T.C. Boyle has published 14 novels and more than 100 short stories.
This Abundant Life
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 mid-winter. We let one person drive around all alone in a huge thing called an SUV. We make perfectly good things—plates, cups, knives—then 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 in the wealthy world 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.
Brooks is an Australian-American journalist and author, Her 2005 novel, March, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She became a United States citizen in 2002.
Our Best Achievement
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, we were 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.
A writer of speculative science fiction and winner of the Nebula and Hugo awards, Robinson has published 19 novels including the award-winning Mars trilogy.
Green Global New Deal
Dear Future Generations, At the time I write this, the greatest fissure in global politics is between the affluent white North and the suffering and devastated victims of floods, fires, blazing temperatures, deforestation and war from the Global South. Writ large, the global crisis between rich and poor is the background to environmental and economic injustice.
At the December United Nations climate summit in Paris, the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, who will bear the greatest burdens of the crisis, will be demanding a Global Green Fund to pay for environmental mitigation and economic development. The price tag is a paltry few billion dollars at this point, compared to the $90 billion cost estimates for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan plus the budgets of our surveillance agencies.
A lifelong political activist and author, Hayden is a former member of the California Legislature.
I Do Not Absolve Myself
Dear children of the future, I want to tell you a story: It began in 1926 when I was born, and is near to being finished in 2015.
Once upon a time: The world that I was born in was not a perfect world. Not everyone had all they needed for a good life, to raise their children and enjoy the bounty of this earth. But it was a grand world, beautiful and filled with resources for its people.
My parents emigrated to the United States, the land of opportunity where there were jobs in many industries, and good land to farm. The Industrial Revolution had begun, creating jobs building the machinery to provide a better future. Progress was the ultimate means to this future. My family aspired to this goal, working hard to get ahead, grateful for work and opportunities to prosper.
Brabenek is a retired orchardist and gardener in Northport, Michigan.
Editor's Note: To read more letters or to write a letter of your own, please visit www.LettersToTheFuture.org. This is a collaborative effort between this newspaper, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and the Media Consortium. You can also like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LettersToTheFuture.ParisClimateProject.