“Where Will the Grandchildren Live” is the title of a letter written by Mike Nickerson to his granddaughter, Lillian. It could easily be the letter anyone of us who is a grandparent could write to one’s grandchildren as we face seemingly insurmountable climate challenges going forward. The following article consists of excerpts from the letter found on SustainabilityWellBeing. (Editor: RMontpellier)
In his article, Where Will the Grandchildren Live, Nickerson theorizes on the laying of a foundation for a New World and planting seeds for the future.
Where Will the Grandchildren Live? (Letter to Lillian)
Early in January, two years ago, your Mom, now grown up, changed my world again with the words “Dad, you’re a Granddad.” Another landmark. Her Mother and I had managed, one way and another, to maintain a home and provide what she needed to grow up and get an education. When she married your Dad, my responsibility to launch her into the world was fulfilled. The responsibility to raise the new generation is now theirs.
As a Grandfather, I’m finding a new role. Playing with you is the fun part. Taking a broad view of the world and looking for problems that might interfere with your parents’ ability to provide for you and further, with your ability to provide for your children, is more ponderous.
The last few generations have seen much change. Your parents will recognize more of it when they are not so busy securing your home and providing the care you need to grow. It is we Grandparents that have the time and perspective to see the big changes that are shaping up.
A Shrinking World
I remember my Grandfather telling me about getting his first car when he was still a young man. Cars didn’t exist much before then. Public air travel was still a novelty when I was born in 1951. Ever more and faster transportation spawned the experience of a shrinking world.
Little did we know how small the world would become. No longer does the Earth appear huge in comparison to what humans do.
When I was young, very few people had any notion that the Earth was limited. .
Our forbearers spent thousands of years pushing back natural forces to secure their own place under the Sun. It was clear from ancient times that the more people there were to share the work, the better off we were.
As our commercial economy evolved out of feudalism, the benefits of expanding commerce became apparent. More goods and services amounted to more wealth and more wealth has, for many, meant more opportunities in life. The very long period over which such customs and institutions have encouraged expansion has deeply ingrained the value of growth into our understanding of the world.
Growth is Now the Biggest Threat to Civilization
The problem is that, while growing has served us well for thousands of years, we have now grown to the point where the human family fills the Earth. Collectively, we are stretching the ability of our planet to provide the materials needed to continue growing and to absorb our waste.
In some cases, like the supply of fossil fuels and the absorption of carbon dioxide from burning those fuels, the Earth will not long be able to continue at present rates, let alone feed growing demand.
Problems associated with our size and continued expansion will increasingly affect our world until our societies choose to address the underlying cause. Even though it has served us well for a very long time, growing is now the biggest threat that civilization faces.
With growth having been our habit for a very long time few people grasp the magnitude of our expansion.
At a 3% growth rate, considered until recently to be a minimum for economic health, it takes 24 years for the economy to double. You could be a mother by that time. The economy would have to double again by the time you might be a grandmother. The implication of repeated doubling is well illustrated by a tiny plant called duckweed. Duckweed floats on the surface of ponds. Under the hot summer Sun, duckweed can double in a day.
The tiny plants can double and double again many times, yet not cover more than a small amount of the pond. Even though they are growing exponentially, they seem inconsequential. However, when the community of plants grows to cover 1% of the pond surface, consequences are not far off.
1% becomes 2% becomes 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and then, in less than a week after reaching 1%, the entire surface of the pond is covered, cutting off the Sun from everything living below. Only four days before the Sun is totally blocked off, more than 90% of the pond surface remains open. The last four doublings bring the duckweed to total dominance.
Human activity has reached the later stages of such exponential acceleration. We are rapidly filling our planet’s ability to accommodate us. If the conventional order keeps to its ideology of expansion, we will seriously damage Earth’s life supporting systems before we can again double in size; before you might have children of your own.
Over my lifetime, I have seen the emerging problems move from theoretical predictions of trouble to come, to accounts of actual problems occurring here and there, to the present situation where every day, serious problems, resulting from the stretching of planetary limits, affect people’s lives. The ever more apparent crises testify that the present, business as usual, system is not serving our long-term interests.
As parents and grandparents, what can we do to assure that today’s young will be able to raise families of their own?
Where will our grandchildren live? How will they manage to provide for their children? There are abundant opportunities, but they are not the same as those found by generations past.
The change required in your lifetime – the lifetime of those presently learning to walk and talk – will be huge.
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