Leaders from 190 countries convene in Paris this year for the United Nations climate talks. Many agree this global summit is humanity’s last chance to address the major crisis of our time. Will the nations of the world finalize a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming?
Wisconsin Gazette joined the Association of Alternative Newsmedia newspapers and the Media Consortium in a project led by the Sacramento News & Review. Letters to the Future invited people — some famous, some living around the corner — to think about future generations and predict the outcome of the Paris talks.
Some participants were optimistic about what is to come — some not so much. Find more of their visions of the future at letterstothefuture.org and www.wisconsingazette.com.
Read letters by Tom Hayden, Donnell Alexander, Michael Pollan, Jim Hightower, Rhea Suh, Bill McKibben, Geraldine Brooks and more.
Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer
Do you remember your grandmother Veronica? I am writing to you on the very day that your grandmother Veronica turned 7 months old — she is my first grandchild and she is your grandmother. That is how quickly time passes and people are born, grow up and pass on. When I was your age — now 20, I did not realize how brief our opportunities are to change the direction of the world we live in. The world you live in grew out of the world I live in, and I want to tell you a little bit about the major difficulties of my world and how they have affected your world.
Tom Hayden, political activist and author
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.
Donnell Alexander, journalist and author
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 though—before the Telecommunications Act of ’96 such transformations happened not infrequently.
Michael Pollan, teacher and author
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.
Jim Hightower, writer and radio commentator
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.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council
Dear grandchildren, I can only imagine the wonderful world you are growing up in. I think of that world — your future — almost every day. I think about how to make sure it is a place where all your hopes and dreams can come true.
A long time ago, my parents traveled across the world from Korea to the United States in search of a brighter future for me and my sisters.
Bill McKibben, author and activist
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, and you live with the unavoidable consequences.
That said, I hope that we made at least some difference. There were many milestones in the fight — Rio, Kyoto, the debacle at Copenhagen. By the time the great Paris climate conference of 2015 rolled around, many of us were inclined to cynicism.
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.
Logan McDermott, Conservationist, Milwaukee
Time is relative and even though my body has already decayed, my actions are still eternal. As humans, trapped on one planet together, we constantly battle over resources and ideologies. I’m certain even you are familiar with war and greed. We rarely take the time to collectively worship Earth; this entire ball of space dirt should be our sanctuary.
Kerry Schumann, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters executive director, Madison
Dear great, great-grandchildren,
As you look back on my generation, I hope you are thanking us. I hope we are remembered as having come to the brink of disaster, but turned back just in time to leave this planet in a better place for our children, for our children’s children, for you.
Leonard Sobczak, real estate, Milwaukee
To the children of the future: we tried.
I was heartened when President Jimmy Carter was promoting and modeling fuel conservation. I was horrified when President Ronald Reagan dispensed with that message and heralded the era of gas-guzzling SUVs and other use of fossil fuels with disregard of the consequence.
Staff and supporters of Clean Wisconsin, environmental advocate, Madison
We do not know how you will look in the next 50 or 100 years … but our world leaders will have a hand in determining that in Paris next month.
Beth Esser, stay-at-home mom and activist, Monona
As I write this, I picture my two young children at a time in their lives when they are older than I am now. They are enjoying life with their children and grandchildren (and maybe even great-grandchildren). They are preparing for the annual recognition of the historic time 85 years earlier when the world came together to turn the tide on the biggest threat to civilization that ever existed — climate change. Miles and Ila, now 91 and 88, retell the stories of our world leaders pledging to keep fossil fuels in the ground, invest in clean energy and create a truly sustainable future.
Lisa Neff, Journalist, Anna Maria, Florida
I wish you could know the magnificent world I know. I grew up in a place romanticized in fiction as Greentown and, as an adult, I lived on the rocky seacoast of New Hampshire, along the mighty Mississippi, in the shadow of the Continental Divide in Montana, on the great lake in Chicago and just feet from the white sandy beaches of an island paradise in Florida.
Editor’s note: More letters will be posted. In addition, you can read and post letters at letterstothefuture.org.