Shortly before he died in 2007, the celebrated US novelist, iconoclast and World War II veteran Kurt Vonnegut gave a final interview.
“My country is in ruins,” he said. “I’m a fish in a poisoned fishbowl.”
Vonnegut was 84, and sounded razor sharp as he spoke about inequality and political shortsightedness, adding that in the history of the US “one thing that no Cabinet has ever had is a secretary of the future, and there are no plans at all for my children and grandchildren.”
“Why should I care about future generations?” the comedian Groucho Marx asked. “What have they ever done for me?”
The future is all downstream. Marty McFly and Doc Brown took us on a great ride in the movie Back to the Future, using their flux capacitor and a flying DeLorean — but time goes only one way, and money cannot buy it.
On the other hand, gratitude goes in a circle.
“In a culture of gratitude, everyone knows that gifts will follow the circle of reciprocity and flow back to you again,” Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her book Braiding Sweetgrass.
Kimmerer, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, adds that “both the honor of giving and the humility of receiving are necessary halves of the equation.”
This should be people’s task: To put the intergenerational “We” above today’s “Me,” and create community through generosity.
To write a Declaration of Interdependence that reminds people to care for each other, to listen; to elect leaders who are motivated by empathy, honesty, science, wisdom and truth, not by power and greed.
There should be no more conspiracy theories, shortsightedness, fossil-fuel subsidies or trillion-dollar unwinnable wars. There should be no more lies.
“The Department of the Future would set in motion a realignment of priorities in all aspects of society,” says geology professor Marcia Bjornerud in her book Timefulness. “Resource conservation would again become a core value and patriotic virtue. Tax incentives and subsidies would be rebalanced to reward long-term stewardship over short-term exploitation.”
Every year, the Global Footprint Network calculates the number of days when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services exceeds what the Earth can regenerate in a year.
This year, Earth Overshoot Day came on July 29, meaning that humans are on track to consume 1.6 Earths rather than have a sustainable one.
Last year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it came on Aug. 22, three weeks later than in 2019, proving that people can reduce their global carbon footprint and ecological burden.
Back in the 1970s, Earth Overshoot Day fell in December, when people largely lived within their means and did not rob the future.
By encouraging higher education and imposing sensible regulations, a Department of the Future would help to incentivize a deeper morality, instead of greed and a preoccupation with Now. Composed of scientists, humanists, historians and Aboriginal elders, it would beckon people to climb a higher peak than the Mountain of More.
The department would end, or at least mitigate, what the author Naomi Klein calls the “intergenerational theft” of anthropogenic climate change, and in its place, develop a blueprint for green energy revolution and regeneration that makes fossil fuels obsolete. It is not without precedent.
About 300 years ago, the Iroquois required their leaders to take into account how their actions would affect the “unborn of the future Nation.” This “seventh generation rule” looked equally far into the past as it did into the future, from one’s great-grandparents to one’s great-grandchildren — a perspective of about 150 years.
For too long, humans have been shortsighted and mistaken cleverness for wisdom. As a result, many of their solutions have later become vexing problems: non-biodegradable microfibers ingested by fish everywhere, plastics filling the stomachs of sea turtles and whales that starve to death, lead-based paints and other compounds that sicken and kill children, cancerous “forever chemicals” in the ground water and sunscreens that bleach coral reefs. All were regarded as wondrous until time gave people clarity and a cause for alarm, changing the equation.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change a “code red for humanity.”
The main culprit: people’s addiction to fossil fuels.
This is why US President Biden, facing severe threats to Americans’ democracy and their livable Earth, must do what has never been done. He must look deeper into the past and clearer into the future than any US president ever has.
He must summon the lessons of history and the progress paradox, listen to science, create jobs (so far so good) and improve the lives of as many Americans as possible. To accomplish this, he must employ wisdom, science, decency, hope and truth — and more than a little grit.
“The future depends on what you do today,” Gandhi said.
By taking a hard look at humanity’s troubled past, and learning from it, people can create a Department of the Future that will help them to achieve the long view. Escaping shortsightedness will make people better caretakers of democracy, the planet and their great-grandchildren’s tomorrows.
The future is out there, looking back and asking people — begging them — to see beyond themselves.
Kim Heacox is an author and National Outdoor Book Award winner.
Local media reported earlier this month that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) criticized President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for referring to China as a “neighboring country,” saying that this is no different from a “two-state” model and that it amounts to changing the cross-strait “status quo.” I find it quite impossible to understand why civilized Taiwan continues to tolerate the existence of such a deceitful group that believes its own lies. The relationship between Taiwan and China is the relationship between two countries, and neither has any jurisdiction over the other — this is the undeniable “status quo.” Those who believe in the
With the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, China has remarketed its East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) concerns. Beijing urged the Taliban to make a clean break with the movement and asked the US to blacklist it again. While some are still debating whether the movement exists, it is not the core of the matter because its existence neither justifies China’s Uighur policy nor sheds light on its concerns after the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan. Is China really worried, and if so, is it because of the movement? This question needs to be answered. When Chinese officials first acknowledged
On Thursday, China applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) — a regional economic organization whose 11 member countries have a combined GDP of US$11 trillion. That is less than China’s 2019 GDP of US$14.34 trillion, so why is China so eager to join? China says there are two main reasons: To consolidate its foreign trade and foreign investment base, and to fast-track economic and trade relations between China and member countries of the CPTPP free-trade area. China’s bilateral trade with these countries grew from US$78 billion in 2003 to US$685.1 billion last year, mostly because of China’s 2005
WASHINGTON [Special Commentary]: It is just a teensy-weensy change, a change of one little syllable. It is barely noticeable unless you’re watching really carefully: The Tai-“pei” Representative Office in Washington, D.C. (TECRO) could soon change its name — just ever so very slightly — to Tai-“wan” Representative Office. The office’s “TECRO” initials would remain the same. It will be only a symbolic change. London’s Financial Times reported last week that such a change may soon be coming. The timing was a bit awkward, though. The FT’s report came out on the very same day that Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮)