Message from the future regarding climate change

Posted: 10 January 2003

Author: Daniel Ihara

Generations, in the not-too-distant future, may well look back on us living in the first decade of the 21st century - especially in the US - and find themselves overwhelmed with anger. They may ask:

Didn't you know that the mass of scientific evidence showed humans were changing the Earth's climate? Didn't you know that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had increased 30 per cent over the past 200 years because of humans' use of fossil fuels? AND that carbon dioxide levels were at their highest levels in over 400,000 years! Hadn't you been told repeatedly by the largest and most rigorously peer-reviewed scientific collaboration in history that the earth's average temperature could increase 10 degrees F? Had you been so effectively inoculated against the truth by the mis-information campaign of the industry-funded Climate Coalition? (see Gelbspan, The Heat is On)

Couldn't you see glaciers, which had persisted for millennia, receding and, in fact, literally disappearing around the globe - that even your Glacier National Park would soon become glacier-less? Didn't you even consider how changes in global climate would strain food resources, create environmental refugees, and through a cascade of repercussions, stress ecosystems and societies in countless unexpected ways?

The front of a melting glacier, Antarctic© Giuseppe Zibordi/NOAAAnd future generations could ask: Didn't you care? Care about you own descendants, the children of your children?

Didn't you see that the real menace - the real weapons of mass destruction - were the invisible gases coming out your cars' tailpipes and your factories' smokestacks which together added billions of tons of carbon to the atmosphere annually, drastically changing and destabilizing the planet's delicate and intricate climate system on which all species had evolved to depend?

Didn't you realize that future generations would compare you to those living around Auschwitz? Those people professed that that did not understand the meaning of the freight trains arriving and the smoke rising, but you do not have the excuse of saying you have not been told. If a court were convened of future generations of humans and other life forms, such a court could find the accused guilty, not just of crimes against humanity, but crimes against life - for ignoring the small, but closing, window of opportunity, until it was too late.

This message is a sort of visitation from the future, not unlike that of the ghost of Christmas Future to Dickens' Scrooge. That was a frightening and terribly bleak visitation. Scrooge sees his own tombstone, but, even more heart-wrenching, he grieves over the untimely death of Tiny Tim. In horror, Scrooge begs the ghost answer him: "Is this a vision of what will be or what MIGHT be?" The next morning Scrooge awakens to find himself alive in the present. It is not too late. There still is time to avert tragedy. Let us joyously do now the many things we can, individually and as a country, while we still have the opportunity of doing so, while there is still time. While we still have time.

Daniel Ihara is Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Economic Development (CEED), based in Arcata, CA. He has a doctorate in economics specializing in Climate Change policy.This article was reproduced with kind permission by E-Wire.