Note — Jun 06, 2021

Future Myopia

I’ll have to go back but I’m pretty sure most articles I might have included on the climate crisis where generations were mentioned had to do with being good ancestors, thus written in the present thinking of future generations. Mehitabel Glenhaber (PhD student at the University of Southern California) is an historian and gives us an excellent essay with something we don’t see as often: the past looking to our present, and the young people of the present looking behind and forward.

They look at the Changing Climate report, written in 1983 by the Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee, and focus on the opinion of Thomas Schelling and the executive summary by Bill Nierenberg who basically said “we know what’s going to happen, but we won’t do anything and let future generations be creative and handle it.”

Glenhaber is of the generation truly inheriting the problem—mine could have done something, did a bare minimum, but wasn’t really living it in their twenties and thirties—and “make[s] eye contact with a ghost,” contemplating what the Shellings and Nierenbergs shovelled forward, what today’s young generation is stuck with, and how to not only take-up the mission of saving the world, but doing it in respect of coming generations.

[Schelling] knows that my life must be very different from his, because he knows that his way of life is not sustainable. And, yet, he does not seem to have put much work into imagining how I might feel about the whole thing. […]

But a ghost is your problem because you live in the house in which it lived — because we live on the same planet, tied up in the same catastrophic global economic system. The world we live in is cluttered with smog, chained with shipping routes and oil pipelines, and littered with the actions of our predecessors. […]

The past may have demanded that I take up the work of repairing the planet; but I do this work so that when I meet someone from future in the archives, I’ll be able to look them in the eye.