A younger friend of mine and I were talking recently about his newborn son. An active environmentalist for a long time, my friend is thrilled to be raising a child with his wife – but also worried about the planet his son will inherit. “What will my son deal with?” he asked me.
The question prompted me to reflect on why people work on protecting our air, land and water. Is it about today or is it about tomorrow? Obviously the answer is both, but sometimes the “tomorrow” element escapes notice. “Tomorrow” is our legacy – hence the name of the Legacy Amendment approved by Minnesota voters in 2008. This 25-year initiative is pumping money into clean water and healthy habitats that will benefit our children’s children.
But that’s not enough. Our challenges go beyond Minnesota. My friend’s son will turn 21 in 2032. What planet, in fact, will he inhabit?
The population of the Earth topped 7 billion last fall, as much as 3 billion above what some observers is sustainable in terms of demand on natural resources. Global climate is in fundamental change, and not for the better. Fresh water is scarce for an estimated 2.5 billion people.
It sounds daunting, until you remember that 40 years ago, some predicted global environmental collapse by 1990. I remember one “futuristic” prime-time TV show from about 1967 that showed Americans of the ‘90s walking around cities in gas masks and mostly living underground for survival.
We averted that future. Not through wishing, but through action. And if we did it then, we can do it now. Through commitment, not through wishing. We need to be smart and good stewards – and we need to shun those who say we have no real environmental problems (for example, “climate change is not real”). You can’t solve them if you don’t acknowledge them.
One of my favorite quotes is from John F. Kennedy. “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”
That’s what I’m telling my friend. If we do our work, his son will live on a planet better than the one on which we live.