Tag Archives: letters to the future

Letters to the Future: The Paris Climate Project

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. 

Brief opportunities 

Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer 

Dear great-great-granddaughter,

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.

Read more …

Green global new deal

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.

Read more

The home office

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.

Read more …

Shift the food system

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.

Read more … 

Political boneheads

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.

Read more …

I’m fighting for you

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.

Read more …

Seize the moment

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.

Read more …

This abundant life

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.

Read more …

Good morning Earth

Logan McDermott, Conservationist, Milwaukee 

Friend,

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.

Read more …

Which path?

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.

Read more …

I hope you can do better

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.

Read more …

We have hope

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.

Read more … 

The stories they will tell

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. 

Read more …

The world I know

Lisa Neff, Journalist, Anna Maria, Florida 

Dear future,

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.

Read more …

Editor’s note: More letters will be posted. In addition, you can read and post letters at letterstothefuture.org.

Good morning Earth | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

Friend,

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.

If our greed has left you with no green spaces or fresh water I am deeply sorry. But at the same time life is all about spacial harmony and you should make comfortable with what ever euphoria you have. Any envy you may have about my life and it’s interaction with the proverbial natural world, take pleasure knowing I never gave up the fight for conservation and I never once took for granted the air I breathe.

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.

The stories they will tell | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

Dear future family,

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. 

They’ll share the names — Bill McKibben, James Hansen, Sandra Steingraber and many of the others who are etched in the history books. But they will also tell the personal stories of how they attended meetings, made signs and marched with their mom and dad in the streets of Madison — demanding, “STOP Enbridge,” “NO more tar sands,” “Divest from fossil fuels NOW” and “INVEST in our future.” Of how they watched their mom travel to New York City in 2014 to participate in the largest march for the climate in history (and how they helped make her a sign to take with her). They’ll tell stories that seem funny to the youngest family members — how people used to fill up their cars with gasoline, how homes were heated by gas and coal plants, and how we didn’t yet have the ability to store wind and solar energy right in our homes. And at the end of the stories, they’ll pause to say their thanks to the strength and perseverance of the generations who came before them so that they could all be together in this moment.

This is my biggest hope. If it doesn’t turn out that way, will there even be a future family to read my letter?

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.




Resilient, timeless and tireless | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

Dear future friends of the rivers, 

… Our rivers will survive — they are resilient, timeless and tireless. When imagining those rivers in the future, several possible scenarios come to mind. One features clean and cool rivers and lakes, which are being enjoyed by people fishing, swimming and paddling. Another, darker scenario features rivers and lakes with warm water, low oxygen levels and few fish — rivers and lakes with low water levels caused by evaporation, over-use and extraction for industry. Waters covered in blue-green algae caused by excess pollution. And cities regularly damaged by floods and rivers full of untreated sewage, from more intense and frequent storms that overwhelm our sewers.

The dark scenario may sound extreme, far-fetched and even a little like science fiction, but it’s the path we are headed down.

We hope that the 2015 Paris Climate Talks is when everything changed. When we saw leaders from across the globe not only recognize the importance of our waterways, but take bold action to protect them. When Waterkeepers from around the globe converged in Paris and convinced global leaders to help protect our waterways and ultimately the communities that depend on them. …

We hope that you are looking out your window at a beautiful, clean, flowing river or lake and that our vision of fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters for everyone has come true.

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.


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

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.

I’m fighting for you | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

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.

Today, I am writing you from Paris, a city that I have traveled across the world to get to, in order to make sure the world does the same for you.  I’m fighting for you, for everyone in your generation across the world, to ensure that you have more than a fighting chance at that bright future. A world without the dangers of global climate change is the world that you will inherit.

What is climate change? Never heard of it? I’m so very glad if you haven’t. Let me try to explain. I warn you though, this can be kind of scary. 

When we first started building up our cities, roads and towns in what was called the Industrial Revolution, we burned all sorts of fuels — coal, oil and natural gas. While these things helped us heat our homes, drive our cars, and expand our cities, we didn’t realize that they also clouded our air, dirtied our water, and made us sick. More than that, the burning of all those fuels made our planet sick. All the other animals and plants that we share this world with were getting sick too. The planet became warmer, which created a mixed up chaos of terrible hurricanes, tornadoes, raging wildfires, drought and increased hunger, growing rates of asthma and lung disease and the extinction of animals at an unprecedented rate. 

So my dear grandchildren, we faced a choice: We could keep doing what we had been doing, or we could make the choice to take a stand for our future — your future and the planet’s future — by creating the framework to begin to move away from this scary legacy. 

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.

I hope you will know this to be true. I hope you will remember that many years ago, your grandma and many others across the world stood up and demanded that we make the world a better place. I hope you know that it was a difficult path, just like my parents so many years ago. And I hope you know we did it thinking of you and the future you now inherit.

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.

Shift the food system | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

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.

In our time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still handed out subsidies to farmers for every bushel of corn, 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 policymakers 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.

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.



The home office | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

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.

But that’s another letter. MC Rakim had this scrap of lyric from “Teach the Children” — a pro-environment slapper that hit the atmosphere closer to Valdez newspaper headline days than when the Web gave us pictures of death smoke plumes taking rise above Iraq. For you, these are abstract epochs. Alaska still had permafrost, the formerly frozen soil that kept methane safely underground. The domino that fell, permafrost. And I could tell you that humans skied Earth’s mountains. Yes, I know: Snow. An antique reference, no question.

That Rakim verse. It went:

Teach the children, save the nation

I see the destruction, the situation

They’re corrupt, and their time’s up soon

But they’ll blow it up and prepare life on the moon

My bounty, it’s easy to Monday morning quarterback from my 2015 vantage point. But I did not do an adequate job of teaching the children about what our corporate overlords had in store for them. Didn’t do it with Exxon or Volkswagen. Didn’t do it when Rakim initially sold me on the premise. And to be honest I haven’t done a bunch of it this year, as sinkholes form and trees fall in parts of the Arctic that Mother Earth could only ever imagined frozen solid.

Make no mistake, I want these words to function as much as a Godspeed note as one of confession. Good luck with your new methane-dictated normal, and the sonic pollution and spiritual upset of those executive flights to colonized Mars. Or, as the president calls that planet, the Home Office. Conditions should have never come to this though. And we’ll always have Paris, to remind us of what might have been.

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.


Dear future: Answering a national call for letters on climate change

The Paris Climate Project has launched “Letters to the Future,” a national effort to encourage authors, scientists, artists, activists and citizens to write letters about climate change to six generations hence.

The letters will be presented to U.S. delegates and others attending the Paris Climate Talks in December.

“‘Letters to the Future’ invites everyone, young and old, to write their future offspring, community, friends — what was it like to be alive when this most consequential summit on climate change occurred? … What do you wish to say, from your heart or your head, to those who weren’t yet here to speak for themselves, as you are?” Welsh notes.

Letter writers to date include Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists Jane Smiley and Geraldine Brooks; Penn/Faulkner award-winner T.C. Boyle; 350.org founder Bill McKibben; U.S. Sen. Harry Reid; Hugo award-winner Kim Stanley Robinson; activist-journalist Michael Pollan; former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and NASA astronaut Stephen Robinson.

And this is just the beginning: People from all walks of life are encouraged to submit a letter and join the conversation. 

The project was envisioned and organized by Melinda Welsh, founding editor of the Sacramento News & Review. Other partners in the project include the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and many member newspapers, including the Wisconsin Gazette. The project also involves the Media Consortium, a network of leading progressive media outlets, such as Mother Jones, Grist, The Nation, Texas Observer and Democracy Now. 

Letters — 400 words in length along with author photos — can be submitted to www.letterstothefuture.org by Nov. 13 in order to be considered for publication in WiG and other newspapers and magazines, in mid-November — before the Paris Climate Talks begin. All letters will be published online. 

On the Web …

To participate in the project, go to www.letterstothefuture.org. And please, also share your letter directly with WiG.

Email Lisa Neff at

WiG will publish letters in print editions in November and online at www.wisconsingazette.com.