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?
Nobody was expecting the semi-collapse of Phoenix, though the city was, along with Tucson, already in trouble. Both cities were rationing water and battling ever-more tenacious wildfires. When a fierce dust storm knocked out Phoenix's electricity grid in June of 2040, and the air conditioning didn't come back on, ever, for many it was the last straw. It wasn't the first migration out of the city, but it was the largest.
What people weren't expecting, however, were the Homeland Security checkpoints around U.S. cities and between state borders, or the new laws that only permitted people with certain documents to travel. And, of course, the subsequent arrests, incarcerations, and deportations if those laws were not heeded.
But I write you, my child, before all this happened. I write to you from Paris, in November of 2015. I write to you one week from what many are saying is the most important climate summit in history. I write you in the hopes that I am wrong, because we all know there is a much better world possible and it's still in our grasp.
It's critical, I think, for you to understand where I am right now. Two weeks before the climate summit began, coordinated violent attacks across Paris dramatically altered the tone of the negotiations. The French government "cancelled" the marches, which were to be attended by varied international organizations that would put formidable grass roots pressure on participating nations. The government said they couldn't provide sufficient protection to the organizers, though the best protection for them—and for you, my child as we now see—would have been to embrace that more urgent conversation that demanded a better world.
The impacts of the Paris attacks spanned the globe. In the United States, for example, most politicians barked about military operations and let this critical moment for the climate fall to the wayside. The fires of xenophobia were fanned all the way to the upper-echelons of government, conflagrating all across the media landscape. Witnessing this rapid mobilization of the counterterrorism hawks just seemed to prove that, if that were the impetus, we could move just as forcefully to protect the climate. But, no. A slightly-reformed yet catastrophic "business as usual" strategy carried on; we guaranteed your frightening reality.
For the astute contemporary historians in 2050, they will see that the calls for more border militarization in 2015 had already been happening for some time. The U.S. military and Border Patrol were already preparing for what official documents called "mass migration" due to climate destabilization. That's why there are all the checkpoints now, on the I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, entering Phoenix, entering California. I know you don't like them; we didn't like them either. As I sit in Paris right now in 2015, your future, I am deeply saddened to say, looks bleak.
But I have a feeling that I am wrong. Maybe I have overestimated the trends of the power structure, and underestimated the strength of the people. Maybe it's you, my beloved, that gives me hope. Maybe I see in your potential actions, in your imagination, in your creativity, and in your capability the seeds for a much happier world. It is clear that your vibrant generation will be forced to act. It will have to reach across these fortified borders, and refuse to submit to them. It will take this sort of unity. This is where I place my greatest hope.
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....
My artist imagination dreams of a hopeful alternative if these leaders don't. I imagine a world in chaos and overwhelmed by major flooding, drought, mega storms, and disastrous temperature changes affecting your food productions. But, I'm hopeful that the great scientific minds of your time along with the research done at Biosphere 2 has led NASA to create a Biosphere 3 on Mars with a livable environment for those of you left here on earth to continue life.
Most importantly, that all of our mistakes in this time has created a greater consciousness for you to create a better world that is mindful of limited resources and is reminded of all the beautiful plants, animals and life on our planet that once existed.
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.
Dear little one, if you're reading this, they did it. And, if they did it, it changed everything.
You see, before the world came together to heal the planet, we acted like we were playing a zero sum game; like if "you" win, "I" lose; like everything has to be "us" vs "them"; like we're not all in this together. In other words, we acted like narcissistic idiots. But once we realized that we needed to work together to stop the mad march to planetary destruction, we started working together on all kinds of things.
We found a way to end poverty and make sure no child would ever go hungry. We built a new economic system from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. We eliminated racism. We built a world in which girls literally can do anything, in which women and men live and work together as true equals, in which all the "isms" and schisms that used to separate us don't anymore. We learned how to get along.
Dear little one, if you're reading this, they did it. And we made them.
We wrote and called and marched. We voted out the bums who put their own political and economic self-interest ahead of yours. We agreed to suck it up and change the way we live today so that you might live tomorrow, even if it was inconvenient and costly, and even if we weren't sure it would work. We agreed that it was worth a try—that you, my sweet, are worth it.
Dear little one, if you're reading this, you're welcome.
With much love,
Your great-great Nani
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.
Sure, there were whipping dust storms that would occasionally ravage equipment and cause minor inconveniences for the scientists and doctors and astronauts on the surface. They'd have to spend a day or two rebuilding after, but they were already used to that. Honestly, at that point those blinding storms were already happening back home in Tucson, and in the Great Plains, and in Africa, Australia, China—I mean, you get it. I've told you about the Dust Bowl—this was different. It was more, and it was constant, and it was global. I would've never brought you into either world.
The day the great Antarctic ice sheet finally shattered was the day people started making plans. Not all people, mind you, just those who could afford to make plans. Sea levels rose and people moved inland. Everyone continued to drive cars and the corporate entities that produced our "goods" continued their rate of consumption as if no land mass had slipped into the ocean at all—no people, no homes, no entire cities had just slipped away. Back in the Sonoran desert, it seemed we were two hundred miles away from Atlantis as great civilizations and vacation destinations just simply stopped existing, and the beach crept closer past Yuma.
Those that could pooled money into rockets and resources—like a rideshare to space that was part luxury cruise, part lifeboat. Of the billion that left, the billion that died from various meteorological cataclysms and the two billion that just plain starved, Earth began to thin out. Those of us who remained had to huddle together in cities and cling to some semblance of community and normalcy, but the overwhelming sense of abandonment and worthlessness permeated every interaction. Every face said the same thing: "I was beat before and I'm still beat." Simply put, we were stranded at home.
At that point, the Martians began to seem less and less human. It's safe to say they had thoroughly divested all assets in the old planet. Life then began to play out like of every episode of "Ancient Aliens" I'd ever seen: the lowly, primitive Earthlings being subject to edicts handed down from heavenly extraterrestrial beings. We were being looked down on still, though they couldn't see us at all. They didn't need us anymore, really, aside from the occasional care package they requested be sent out to them—mostly leftover luxury items like liquor and cigars. There was just enough infrastructure left to send packages and big celebrity names—relics of the former society—gave just enough incentive, though they never sent anything back to us.
The willing servants here on Earth did abide these requests for a while, though it began to feel like the whole world had become embargo-era Cuba, and Mars was, well, I think you know who Mars was. Eventually we just stopped responding to the alien demands.
It was strange, though, when we all realized new TV and movies would all but cease to exist. No one kept up with Kardashians, and I doubt you even understand what that means, which is a relief in some ways. The radio stations were commandeered by the community, and the concept of pop music grew more peculiar as people grew to prefer singing in small groups, over drinks—a bit comfort in a pit of uncertainty. Modern folk songs were the old world's hits, and even those earworms that seemed trite and inane back before were a welcome reminder of everything now gone.
Although many of the best botanists were recruited on the red planet, we lived with the indigenous tribes who knew what to do with the land and crops available and the good salt-of-the-earth farmers. Once they weren't bound to federal subsidies for corn syrup, farming more or less returned to the way it was done for thousands of years before industrialization. Crops were rotated, plants grew in their native regions. It didn't seem like much at the time because it was all we knew to do to provide for those left.
However, once communities existed tightly in those bones of former major cities, people stopped driving. It was easier to bike, and gas was hard to come by once the drills stopped drilling. People also stopped demanding bananas and mangoes year round and that makes a big difference mentally as much as it does ecologically. People who lived in the old world with less did much better in the new world.
Most of us were armed, despite what many leftover bleeding hearts would have preferred, but the reality was that we were no longer at the top of the food chain and desperation in any species is a dangerous motivator. Plus, who could blame the ones who pushed back against old power structures that struggled to keep a grasp on their post. The way authority used to work no longer made sense in this world, and some people needed to be reminded. I'm glad you'll never know what that system felt like.
I'd like to believe the ones that left Earth all those years ago now are doing well. I'd like to think they survived, despite living in a world where their egos were no longer valid currency. The lesser folks, the laborers, the admirers were all back on Earth. Who knows how the Martians got anything done. Communication systems haven't been maintained and, honestly, who cares.
The thing is, it doesn't really matter anymore what goes on on Mars. From those violent storms and rising tides, you can see every day that the weather overall has begun to stabilize here. Things are growing again, and the oppressive uselessness that led to a clinical depression felt by many in the old world has been replaced by trades that hint at purpose and place in society. Heck, people are cobblers again. You get to grow in a society where we've learned to repair and create. It'll still take time for the landfills to biodegrade and the garbage islands in the Atlantic to dissipate, but we're working on it now that we have food figured out.
Though some worry the progress we've made might inevitably lead to an alien invasion—a return of the Martians—all we can do is hope they've run out of gas. That they're stranded.
You see, I never thought I'd have a child before. Forty years ago, when all of this started, I'd have called someone absurd for even suggesting it. I had spent so many years adhered to a bleak misanthropy, and I knew what happened would inevitably happen. For me, it was only a matter of time, but I was only part right.
What I didn't know is that, like the time you fell off the swingset and sprained your ankle, the new world was young and pliable—able to bounce back in ways no one expected. I had you because I had hope and I hope this letter gives you some too, or at least some perspective.
History was always told through written word by the victors and, at least for you and I, this is the reality of the past and a glimpse of a possible future, and guess what? We won.
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.
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 conformity—just 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?
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.
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, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Slowly, we convinced the policy makers 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 energy: photosynthesis.
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 sun—on photosynthesis—rather than on fossil fuels to feed ourselves. We learned that there are 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.
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.
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 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.
Stephen K. Robinson
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).
Apologies too about the oceans, and I know this must have been particularly hard on you since you've always been a seafaring race, but since you're primarily vegetarian, I don't imagine that the extinction of fish would have much affected you. And if, out of some nostalgia for the sea that can't be fully satisfied by whatever hardtack may have survived us, try jellyfish. They'll be about the only thing out there now, but I'm told they can be quite palatable, if not exactly mouth-watering, when prepared with sage and onions. Do you have sage and onions? But forgive me: of course you do. You're an agrarian tribe at heart, though in our day we certainly did introduce you to city life, didn't we? Bright lights, big city, right? At least you don't have to worry about abattoirs, piggeries, feed lots, bovine intestinal gases and the like—or, for that matter, the ozone layer, which would have been long gone by the time you started walking on two legs. Does that bother you? The UV rays, I mean? But no, you're a nocturnal tribe anyway, right?
Anyway, I just want to wish you all the best in your endeavors on this big blind rock hurtling through space. My advice? Stay out of the laboratory. Live simply. And, whatever you do, please—I beg you—don't start up a stock exchange.
With Best Wishes,
P.S. In writing you this missive, I am, I suppose, being guardedly optimistic that you will have figured out how to decode this ape language I'm employing here—especially given the vast libraries we left you when the last of us breathed his last.
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.
Friends are working on genetic editing that will bring back the heath hen, a bird that went extinct almost 80 years ago. The last member of the species died in the woods just a few miles from my home. 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, and that their habitat was restored, instead of being sold for yet more beachside mansions. 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, spinning in the velvet void.
We send out probes, looking for signs of life on other worlds. A possible spec of mold is exciting—press 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. 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.
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 education 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 how we managed to dodge disaster and give you a healthy Earth. It 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 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.
What is needed is a Green Global New Deal funded from public and private sources to begin saving the earth.
The mass movement will gain momentum, unfortunately, from repetitive climate disasters that require billions for infrastructure alone. Si, se puede, it can be done because there is no alternative. That's why producing affordable zero-emission cars is important in Hunters Point (the African-American center of San Francisco) and Boyle Heights (the heart of Los Angeles' Mexican-American community) and the barefoot Third World bloc representing a majority of the world's nation states.
California Senate Pro Tem Kevin De León, a leader in the cause of environmental justice, has legislated a remarkable shift in environmental and budgetary priorities in the state where I reside. Call it the California Model. Current law now requires that environmental funding go both to reduction of carbon emissions and co-equal benefits for disadvantaged communities. During the four years beginning in 2014 the state will invest $120 billion on such a climate justice program from sources including the much-debated cap-and-trade program which brings in at least two or three billion annually along with revenue from tax reforms funded by Tom Steyer, the billionaire San Francisco investor who has made climate justice his passion.
This model is being carried by California Gov. Jerry Brown's administration by a series of state-and-regional pacts with the goal of achieving a more stable climate. Almost alone, the governor is pursuing energy diplomacy with formal agreements with eleven U.S. states, and a growing list of major countries from China to Brazil to Germany. Call it the emerging Green Bloc. By Brown's conservative numbers, the Green Bloc represents 100 million people and a GDP of $4.5 trillion. But these numbers are low: by my estimate we are talking about 166 million people in states pursuing low-to no-carbon policies in American states with 262 Electoral College votes! Tea Party beware.
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.
But families busy living their lives are often unaware of the workings of governments and powers that create conflicts to help keep the systems running. Most of us dutifully worked for whosoever provided means for a satisfying life.
Until one day, we saw the progress we supported was creating hazards that threatened our health; the health of the planet sustaining us was being weakened by exploitation of its fragile resources, creating wealth for the few through efforts of many working to exist.
Suddenly we understood that our existence on earth was threatened. We became alarmed that there would be no safe future here to sustain our children—that the children who followed through years ahead would not know the beauty and splendor of the earth that we have known.
I do not absolve myself or your forebears from blame if you have inherited an earth which may have become barren and unsafe. We were all to blame for exploiting the nurturing beauty of our earth. Surely there was greed, indifference, and blind denial to some degree in mostly everyone. And the few who had the wisdom to see what was happening were not listened to or believed.
With greatest regret, we send our humble wish for your forgiveness that we were not better stewards of the earth we left to you. We only hope you will be wiser, will learn from our mistakes, and do everything in your power to care for this wounded planet that holds you.
And may you always sleep safely.
Brabenek is a retired orchardist and gardener in Northport, Michigan.
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