Welcome to a series of letters addressed to those who will inhabit the earth we leave behind. What would you say to future generations about how you’re making the world a better place for them—or not?
As a child, the idea of a time capsule mystified me. It was difficult to fathom the future—or the past for that matter—and to consider items or belongings that would emerge or become obsolete in ten, twenty, fifty years. Living in the present is something many people strive for. Through meditation or breathing exercises, apps or yoga, being ‘in the now’ is a mindset that has become idolized in books, as well as in both conventional medicine and new age-y practice.
All of this has changed, however, with climate change and the degradation of this giant rock we call home. No longer is ‘living in the present’ the only pressing mantra. Consideration of future generations is accompanied by the contemplation of scientists’ climate and weather projections for future years. Governments, corporations, and citizens of the world are now encouraged to think of unborn children and grandchildren before committing formerly unconscious but now understandably unscrupulous acts.
This too is a consideration for me. Will my future daughter or son place blame, like in many cases I have, on the older and formerly living inhabitants of this planet? Will they understand the needs for survival in the 21st century? Will they appreciate or efforts but forgive our shortcomings?
I have spent the past several years living as environmentally ‘friendly’ as possible. I’ve traded a car for a bicycle. I’ve bought organic produce and used gray-water friendly chemicals. I’ve protested and written letters to local government representatives. I’ve been a vegan. I’ve buried my desire to someday give birth with feelings of guilt as my procreation was, for some time, something in opposition to my ideas of sustainability.
I’ve become an advocate of reusable bags and KeepCups and have been transformed into a hoarder of entirely too many glass bottles and jars. I’ve grown my own food. I’ve helped build an Earthship. I’ve taken longer and more expensive (but less carbon-intensive) bus rides instead of flying. I’ve boycotted malls and shopping centers and scoured thrift stores and op shops instead.
I’ve taken on thousands of worms as cherished backyard ‘pets’. I’ve stood atop a landfill and acutely felt the burden of my many wasteful actions. I’ve done research, gotten a master’s degree, volunteered my time, and filled many hours of my conscious (and surely unconscious) thought with ideas of what it means to be an environmentalist.
While in many ways I ‘fit the bill’ as someone who advocates for the survival of this planet, my environmentalism is accompanied by innumerable faults, and I would be lying if I said that I live without committing many acts of ecological wrongdoing.
I love cheese. I feed my adrenaline-seeking nature by going on motorcycle rides, burning fossil fuels many times without a defined destination. I have thrown away mattresses, furniture, clothes, and food.
I sometimes say yes to receiving a plastic bag.
I don’t always shop in the bulk section. I have a guilty pleasure for heavily packaged, heavily processed junk food. I’ve littered. I’m writing this on a laptop that required a tremendous amount of water and resources to produce. My thrift store finds are the result of a shopping addiction and are enough to clothe a small village. I leave the lights on. I reeeeealllly prefer owning new books instead of borrowing them from the library. I just bought a new bicycle instead of getting mine fixed. I’ve found myself living more than 10,000 miles away from home and now long-haul international flights are an annual feature of my life. I take insanely long and insanely hot showers. I require nearly twenty trees to feed my yearly coffee habit.
I could go on, and on, and on, and on. I could easily continue listing my environmental faux-pas until the CO2 in our atmosphere rises well above 500 ppm. But I’ll spare you the details of my struggle with green living. I do, however, want to tell you, the man or woman or non-binary human of the future, that living within the earth’s means in this time period is, in fact, a struggle.
It’s something I grapple with daily. I lose sleep over failed compost efforts. I feel extreme and sometimes somatically excruciating pain when I waste food. I face daily existential crises when it comes to things like water, recycling, and new clothes. I am brought to tears when I think about you, and the world that you may live in.
I know I can’t speak for the nearly 8 billion souls on this planet, but I can certainly speak for some when I say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we haven’t done more for you and your friends and family. I’m sorry that we didn’t hold our governments, companies, and selves more accountable for our actions. I’m sorry that we didn’t prioritize your life more than our short-term goals and plans.
My apologies are sincere, and they come from the bottom of my heart.
However, evocative of my ten-year-old self who’s done something wrong, I feel as if I need to accompany my apologies with some acknowledgment for the reasons for my actions. I hope that this collection of letters will be read at some point in the future and that you, the reader, will at least get a sense of what ‘saving the planet’ looked like for someone alive in the era of Donald Trump, relatively cheap international travel, excessive amounts of EVERYTHING, and climate change skepticism. I hope that my journey paints a picture of how doing what’s right for you and the earth is a decision that intersects with sometimes oppositional values, cultural constructs, access, affordability, and levels of understanding.
I’m not seeking atonement for the thousands of miles I’ve driven or the plastic bottles I’ve haphazardly discarded. I’m not trying to justify every time I’ve shit on Mother Earth (save for my composting toilet efforts). My aim for this collection of letters isn’t to rid myself of guilt about my actions, nor is it to valorize my ‘environmentalism’. It’s simply to give awareness to the human beings that will call Earth home long after I’m gone while considering myself as someone of equal importance.
None of us are perfect. And unless there’s a dramatic shift in the way humanity operates, none of the future ‘us’ will be perfect. Many of us try to live within our means, try to live without placing a strain on the Earth’s resources. Yet many of us still drive cars, use iPhones, heat and cool our homes unnecessarily, eat meat, and enjoy owning new things. Put simply, we live. And sometimes the consideration of you, the human of the future, isn’t enough to prevent us from doing what we know and doing what we love.