Dear grandchildren (and their progeny),
I am writing to ask your forgiveness .
It has become clear that my generation has behaved badly and will make life for yours enormously difficult. In the words of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us.”
Everyone knows what we ought not be doing. We ought not continue to extract fossil fuels and turn them into atmospheric CO2. We ought not eat beef or drink cow’s milk. We ought not destroy the richness of earth’s biome with pesticides, herbicides, and industrial farming practices; we ought not convert every bit of the planet’s arable land to monocultural ecological deserts; we ought not manufacture non-biodegradable products. And every mother’s son or daughter of us ought not whine because it will be too big a sacrifice and is going to cost us more
However, we ought to twist the arms of our political, industrial, and financial leaders until they turn off support of the fossil fuel industries and turn on full force the support of renewable energy.
But…….why must I personally apologize? Here’s why. I still have a fracked gas furnace. I still go places using a gas powered automobile, I still eat some meat and some groceries that are not organically grown. Half the stuff I buy is at least partly made of non-biodegradable plastic. The list goes on.
It’s been over thirty years since James Hansen, then Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Center, testified before the US Senate that our massive release of carbon dioxide was warming the earth. There were probably articles in the lay press about it then but they didn’t cause a blip on my radar.
I’m not sure when the first blip did occur, but by the time I retired in 2010 there was plenty of coverage. Now, twenty years later, I am sorry to say that fossil fuels continue to be mined and burned, and the planet’s ongoing warming is obvious even to a non-scientist. Big storms are more frequent, heat waves more dramatic. Portland, Oregon hit 113 degrees Fahrenheit last summer, species that used to be plentiful in Rhode Island, like mussels and lobsters, have moved north and previously southern species like black sea bass are now common.
Since the industrial revolution, the USA has pumped more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other nation. But even last year, our carbon dioxide emissions rose by 6%. At this rate we will double our CO2 emissions by 2032. This is beyond unconscionable; it is evil, and I sincerely beg your forgiveness.
Oh, I have put in some token effort. We don’t own a car, but when we take a trip we borrow one of our daughter’s. I bike the eight blocks to the grocery store. (Well hooray for me!) We have solar panels on both our houses, ( though we fly cross-country between them). It’s been a long time since I had a steak though I still have yoghurt with my granola. The fact is, it’s nowhere near enough.
I hold in contempt the generation that wiped out the passenger pigeon, and nearly exterminated bison for the fun of killing them. But my generation is leaving a legacy which is far worse.
For this, I beg your forgiveness.
(This essay was initially published in the Guest Columnist “Your Turn” feature of the Providence Journal on April 22, 2022)