A Letter of Apology to My Granddaughter
[Note: I became politically active and committed on the day 20 years ago when I realized I could stand on the front porch of my house and point to three homes where children were in wheelchairs, to a home where a child had just died of leukemia, to another where a child was born missing a kidney, and yet another where a child suffered from spina bifida. All my parental alarms went off at once and I asked the obvious question: What’s going on here? Did I inadvertently move my three children into harm’s way when we settled in this high desert valley in Utah? A quest to find answers in Utah’s nuclear history and then seek solutions followed. Politics for me was never motivated by ideology. It was always about parenting.
Today my three kids are, thankfully, healthy adults. But now that grandchildren are being added to our family, my blood runs cold whenever I project out 50 years and imagine what their world will be like at middle age—assuming they get that far and that there is still a recognizable “world” to be part of. I wrote the following letter to my granddaughter, Madeline, who is almost four years old. Although she cannot read it today, I hope she will read it in a future that proves so much better than the one that is probable, and so terribly unfair. I’m sharing this letter with other parents and grandparents in the hope that it may move them to embrace their roles as citizens and commit to the hard work of making the planet viable, the economy equitable and our culture democratic for the many Madelines to come.]
March 20, 2012
I address this letter to you, but please share it with Jack, Tasiah and other grandchildren who are yet unborn. Also, with your children and theirs. My unconditional love for my children and grandchildren convinces me that, if I could live long enough to embrace my great-grandchildren, I would love them as deeply as I love you.
On behalf of my generation of grandparents to all of you, I want to apologize.
I am sorry we used up all the oil. It took a million years for those layers of carbon goo to form under the Earth’s crust and we used up most of it in a geological instant. No doubt there will be some left and perhaps you can get around the fact that what remains is already distant, dirty, and dangerous, but the low-hanging fruit will be long-gone by the time you are my age. We took it all.
There’s no excuse, really. We are gas-hogs, plain and simple. We got hooked on faster-bigger-more and charged right over the carrying capacity of the planet. Oil made it possible.
Machines are our slaves and coal, oil and gas are their food. They helped us grow so much of our own food that we could overpopulate the Earth. We could ship stuff and travel all over the globe, and still have enough fuel left to drive home alone in trucks in time to watch Monday Night Football.
Rocket fuel, fertilizer, baby bottles, lawn chairs: we made everything and anything out of oil and could never get enough of it. We could have conserved more for you to use in your lifetime. Instead, we demonstrated the self-restraint of crack addicts. It’s been great having all that oil to play with and we built our entire world around that. Living without it will be tough. Sorry.
I hope we develop clean, renewable energy sources soon or that you and your generation figure out how to do that quickly. In the meantime, sorry about the climate. We just didn’t realize our addiction to carbon would come with monster storms, epic droughts, Biblical floods, wildfire infernos, rising seas, migration, starvation, pestilence, civil war, failed states, police states and resource wars.
I’m sure Henry Ford didn’t see that coming when he figured out how to mass-produce automobiles and sell them to Everyman. I know my parents didn’t see the downside of using so much gas and coal. The all-electric house and a car in the driveway was their American Dream. For my generation, owning a car became a birthright. Today, it would be hard for most of us to live without a car. I have no idea what you’ll do to get around or how you will heat your home. Oops!
We also pigged out on most of the fertile soil, the forests and their timber, and the oceans that teemed with fish before we scraped the seabed raw, dumped our poisonous wastes in the water, and turned it acid and barren. Hey, that ocean was an awesome place and it’s too bad you can’t know it like we did. There were bright coral reefs, vibrant runs of red salmon, ribbons of birds embroidering the shores, graceful shells, the solace and majesty of the wild sea…
…But then I never saw the vast herds of bison that roamed the American heartland, so I know it is hard to miss something you only saw in pictures. We took lots of photos.
We thought we were pretty smart because we walked a man on the moon. Our technology is indeed amazing. I was raised without computers, smart phones, and the World Wide Web, so I appreciate how our engineering prowess has enhanced our lives, but I also know it has a downside.
When I was a kid we worried that the Cold War would go nuclear. And it wasn’t until a river caught fire near Cleveland that we realized fouling your own nest isn’t so smart after all. Well, you know about the rest—the coal-fired power plants, acid rain, the hole in the ozone...
There were plenty of signs we took a wrong turn but we kept on going. Dumb, stubborn, blind: Who knows why we couldn’t stop? Greed maybe—powerful corporations we couldn’t overcome. It won’t matter much to you who is to blame. You’ll be too busy coping in the diminished world we bequeath you.
One set of problems we pass on to you is not altogether our fault. It was handed down to us by our parents’ generation so hammered by cataclysmic world wars and economic hardship that they armed themselves to the teeth and saw enemies everywhere. Their paranoia was understandable, but they passed their fears on to us and we should have seen through them. I have lived through four major American wars in my 62 years, and by now defense and homeland security are powerful industries with a stranglehold on Congress and the economy. We knew that was a lousy deal, but trauma and terror darkened our imaginations and distorted our priorities. And, like you, we needed jobs.
Sorry we spent your inheritance on all that cheap bling and, especially, all those weapons of mass destruction. That was crazy and wasteful. I can’t explain it. I guess we’ve been confused for a long time now.
Oh, and sorry about the confusion. We called it advertising and it seemed like it would be easy enough to control. When I was a kid, commercials merely interrupted entertainment. Don’t know when the lines all blurred and the buy, buy, buy message became so ubiquitous and all-consuming. It just got outta hand and we couldn’t stop it, even when we realized we hated it and that it was taking us over. We turned away from one another, tuned in and got lost.
I’m betting you can still download this note, copy it, share it, bust it up and remake it, and that you do so while plugged into some sort of electrical device you can’t live without—so maybe you don’t think that an apology for technology is needed and, if that’s the case, an apology is especially relevant. The tools we gave you are fine, but the apps are mostly bogus. We made an industry of silly distraction. When our spirits hungered, we fed them clay that filled but did not nourish them. If you still don’t know the difference, blame us because we started it.
And sorry about the chemicals. I mean the ones you were born with in your blood and bones that stay there—even though we don’t know what they’ll do to you. Who thought that the fire retardant that kept smokers from igniting their pillows and children’s clothes from bursting into flames would end up in umbilical cords and infants?
It just seemed like better living through chemistry at the time. Same with all the other chemicals you carry. We learned to accept cancer and I guess you will, too. I’m sure there will be better treatments for that in your lifetime than we have today. If you can afford them, that is. Turning healthcare over to predatory corporations was another bad move.
All in all, our chemical obsession was pretty reckless and we got into that same old pattern: just couldn’t give up all the neat stuff. Oh, we tried. We took the lead out of gasoline and banned DDT, but mostly we did too little, too late. I hope you’ve done better. Maybe it will help your generation to run out of oil, since so many of the toxic chemicals came from that. Anyway, we didn’t see it coming and we could have, should have. Our bad.
There are so many other things I wish I could change for you. We leave behind a noisy world. Silence is rare today, and unless some future catastrophe has left your numbers greatly diminished, your machines stilled, and your streets ghostly empty, it is likely that the last remnants of tranquility will be gone by the time you are my age.
And how about all those species, the abundant and wondrous creatures that are fading away forever as I write these words? I never saw a polar bear and I guess you can live without that, too, but when I think of the peep and chirp of frogs at night, the hum of bees busy on a flower bed, the trill of birds at dawn, and so many other splendorous pleasures that you may no longer have, I ache with regret. We should have done more to keep the planet whole and well, but we couldn’t get clear of the old ways of seeing, the ingrained habits, the way we hobble one another’s choices so that the best intentions never get realized.
Mostly I’m sorry about taking all the good water. When I was a child I could kneel down and drink from a brook or spring wherever we camped and played. We could still hike up to glaciers and ski down snow-capped mountains.
Clean, crisp, cold, fresh water is life’s most precious taste. A life-giving gift, all water is holy. I repeat: holy. We treated it, instead, as if it were merely useful. We wasted and tainted it and, again in a geological moment, sucked up aquifers that had taken 10,000 years to gather below ground. In my lifetime, glaciers are melting away, wells are running dry, dust storms are blowing and rivers like the mighty Colorado are running dry before they reach the sea. I hate to think of what will be left for you. Sorry. So very, very sorry.
I’m sure there’s a boatload of other trouble we’re leaving you that I haven’t covered here. My purpose is not to offer a complete catalog of our follies and atrocities, but to do what we taught your parents to do when they were as little as you are today.
When you make a mistake, we told them, admit it, and then do better. If you do something wrong, own up and say you are sorry. After that, you can work on making amends.
I am trying to see a way out of the hardship and turmoil we are making for you. As I work to stop the madness, I will be mindful of how much harder your struggles will be as you deal with the challenges we leave you to face.
The best I can do to help you through the overheated future we are making is to love you now. I cannot change the past and my struggle to make a healthier future for you is uncertain, but today I can teach you, encourage you, and help you be as strong and smart and confident as you can be, so that whatever the future holds, whatever crises you face, you are as ready as possible. We will learn to laugh together, too, because love and laughter can pull you through the toughest times.
I know a better world is possible. We create that better world by reaching out to one another, listening, learning, and speaking from our hearts, face to face, neighbor to neighbor, one community after another, openly, inclusively, bravely. Democracy is not a gift to be practiced only when permitted. We empower ourselves. Our salvation is found in each other, together.
Across America this morning and all around the world, our better angels call to us, imploring us to rise up and be as resilient as our beloved, beautiful children and grandchildren, whose future we make today. We can do better. I promise.
Chip Ward, a TomDispatch regular, co-founded HEAL Utah and led several grassroots campaigns to make polluters accountable. He wrote Canaries on the Rim and Hope’s Horizon, was an administrator of the award-winning Salt Lake City Public Library, and then retired to the canyons of southern Utah. His latest work, just published, is Dance, Don't Drive: Resilient Thinking for Turbulent Times. His essays can be read at chipwardessays.blogspot.com. He can be written at email@example.com.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Cross-posted with permission from TomDispatch.com.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.
- Essential Oils: 7 Common Questions Answered - EcoWatch ›
- 9 Ways to Boost Your Immune System - EcoWatch ›
- 15 Impressive Herbs with Antiviral Activity - EcoWatch ›
- Brazil Using Pandemic as Smokescreen for New Attacks on the ... ›
- In 'Totalitarian' Move, Brazil's Bolsonaro Removes Death and Case ... ›
- Brazil Passes 50,000 Coronavirus Deaths as Global Cases Top 9 ... ›
By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bd9fda1316965a9ba24dd60fd9cc34d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3KaMnkmf0tc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
- Solar Employs More Workers Than Coal, Oil and Natural Gas ... ›
- The Truth About Natural Gas: A 'Green' Bridge to Hell - EcoWatch ›
- Why Natural Gas Is a Bridge Fuel to Nowhere - EcoWatch ›
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
- Here's How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak ... ›
- EPA Warns Against Fake Coronavirus Cleaners - EcoWatch ›
- What to Do if There's a Disinfectant Shortage in Your Area - EcoWatch ›
For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
- Trump Neglects Climate Change in State of the Union While ... ›
- House Democrats Hold First Climate Change Hearings in More ... ›
- If the Democratic Party Is Serious About Climate Change, They Must ... ›
Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
- Judge Blocks California From Putting Cancer Warning on Roundup ... ›
- Bayer Settles Roundup Cancer Suits for Over $10 Billion - EcoWatch ›
By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
- Elephant Poaching Is on the Rise in Botswana, Study Confirms ... ›
- In 'Conservation Disaster,' Hundreds of Botswana's Elephants Are ... ›
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›