This abundant life | Letters to the Future: The Paris Climate Project

Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer

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 — news 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.

Editor’s note: World leaders convene in Paris soon for the critical U.N. climate talks. In fact, December of 2015 may be humanity’s last chance to address the crisis of our time.

Will the nations of the world finally pass a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming … or will we fail at this most crucial task?

Here and on letterstothefuture.org, find letters from authors, artists, scientists and others, written to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks and what came after. Read these letters and write one of your own. The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks.