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“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
Source: Franke James

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.

Exponential Acceleration

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.

Related article:

One Thing Changes All Else

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.Creative Commons License

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  1. Isn’t that crazy? I wonder the same thing every single day. I have three grandkids now, all under the age of four. I was a trucker for 30 years, and ran loads of fresh food for more than 20 years of that before my left eye started to give out, ending my career in 2009.

    In 2010 I went back to finish an urban planning degree that I had started in the 1980s. Since the 1980s the curriculum had changed from a focus on economic development to the question of whether or not sustainability was achievable, which they claimed that it was.

    Alas, thanks to my 30 years worth of national-scale heavy freight and wholesale fresh food logistical experience, I knew better, and I spent the last two years educating them instead. I did such a good job that I am in grad school taking regional sustainability now.

    What is regional sustainability you ask? It is a field where I can put my logistical knowledge to good use, trying to keep businesses, industries, towns, cities, States, entire river basins, or even the entire Southwestern US and Mexico from continuing on an unsustainable path.

    While academic focus has been water supply and food supply sustainability, neither is even remotely possible if runway climate change continues on its present path, as on that path, city after city will get to the point of having to shed population and then ever-larger refugee flows will overwhelm any chance of sustainability across wide areas.

    There is a substantial body of science that I subscribe to that says that if our global average temperature rises by 4-5 degrees Celsius as has been forecast by numerous climate change scientists, as soon as 2040 or 2050, the total number of water supply and food supply scarcity refugees will be in the 1-3 billion range.

    And frankly, if we lose half of planetary farmland to record heat and record drought, causing loss of vegetation, increasing surface water evaporation, drying and desertifying soils, reduced and destroyed crop yields, and eventual aquifer depletion, just so that you know, the other half will only be able to support about 5 billion of the 8-9 billion people alive at that time.

    I see that you have Pail Beckwith on your page, and I have Sam Carana on mine too, thanks to Colorado Bob, so I won’t have to turn you onto the Arctic News, Robert Scribbler’s page, or the IARC either.

    Let’s hope for the sake of my kids, grandkids, and yours too that Michael Mann is more-correct than Guy McPherson is, as otherwise perhaps now would be a good time to buy an old underground mine with a water supply and try to learn to grow food and run a windmill off of wind currents underground, and hopefully when the time comes the desperate hordes pass you by too!

    Sustainable solutions wouldn’t be easy, and they wouldn’t be inexpensive either, but look at the alternative, having to tell your own children the bad news about their future. Because it takes 30 years for carbon emissions to be absorbed and become nearly neutral, either we move rapidly away from man-made GHG emissions by 2025 or by 2060 it is the end.

    It is the end of billions of lives, like a giant game of musical chairs, and what do you bet that there will be some very angry folks just itching to get even with those of us who have been guilty of living artificially well due to the control of resources and causing this eventual catastrophic and sorry end too?

    In 2060 I’ll be 103 if I am still around, but my youngest son will only be 67, and my grandson will only be 47, if he isn’t driven right off the planet or underground first, thanks to the worst case of greed and short-sightedness that I have ever seen. You do know that the majority of world climate science has found the IPCC report far to the conservative side, right?

    Try this recent Michael Mann piece, as it is pretty close to the middle of the road when it comes to recent climate change science. Mann and I both say that it is already too late to prevent a rise of 2 degrees Celsius and that if we are lucky, good, and very unselfish, we might hold warming to between 2.5 and 3 degrees Celsius of warming, which still stands to raise sea levels by 2-3 meters and drive an 8-9 figure sum of American and Mexican citizens from their homes in a desperate search for food and water too.

    You are also invited to my own Facebook page, Coloradans for Responsible Energy and Environmental Policy, where I try on a daily basis to share as much responsible media on this subject as possible.

    Creeping toward sustainability one day at a time!

  2. Thank you Mark for your very thoughtful response. I think it’s the longest response I’ve ever gotten. So you hold the record – just kidding.

    I applaud you for undertaking a career change after your trucking days came to an end. One could easily have just given up but you did not. Congratulations.

    As you point out, food and water supplies will be the issues of the next decades as climate change ravages our agricultural systems. Wars will no longer be fought for oil but rather for sustenance needed to survive. So indeed, where and how will our grandchildren live? That is a nagging concern for me.

    Thank you for sharing the two links. I will check them out. Michael Mann and I follow each other on Twitter and in Linkedin.

    I have “liked” your FB page and actually posted this article on that page a few hours ago. But the image did not display???

    These are my other links. Thanks for your interest.

    LIKE my Facebook page:
    FOLLOW me on Twitter:

  3. We can’t fix typos here? Like the one where I had intended to say that “While {my} academic focus has been water supply and food supply sustainability, …?”

    And I can assure you Paul, I had not intended to say that you were pail either, though it has been a long winter with little sun in Ottawa, eh?

    (I have a good friend who lives near Ottawa who has complained about the weather there all winter long in-fact).

    For whatever reason I can’t find your comment either Rolly, where did you post it?

    • I had thanked you for your thoughtful and comprehensive response to the article. Also, congrats on starting a new career at the end of your career as a trucker. I have checked out the links you provided and “liked” your FB page.

      I will add to this comment after ensuring that this one registers on the site.

      Thanks again.

  4. To follow up on your comment Mark, I wanted to add that I share your concerns about the future of our grandchildren. I too see overpopulation as a major issue. I don’t believe we will ever get to the projected 9 billion people in 2050. As the ravages of climate change become the norm, there will be massive die-offs of population due to lack of food and water – a pretty dismal reality.

    These are my other links. Thanks for your interest.

    LIKE my Facebook page:
    FOLLOW me on Twitter:

  5. While, I don’t have any grandkids, I worry about the exponential growth of human population unchecked! Society in general, seems to be oblivious to this, the biggest problem facing the continuation of the human species, let alone other ecosystems on planet earth. Any animal population that becomes too big, eventually runs out of enough food to sustain it and endemic collapse occurs (usually rapidly).

    An interesting book published this year by Elizabeth Kolbert (writer for National Geographic and The New York Times), “The Sixth Extinction” notes that humans are creating the fastest of all extinctions, and worse, it is the first time that species has little chance to adapt to cope as in previous extinctions. Scientists, in this field of research, have already named our current extinctions as the “Anthropocene.” Even the loss of a single species changes the inter-dependent relationship of our ecosystems; the loss of hundreds is too much for nature to resolve. Humans are dealing with these severe problems so poorly that we are no better prepared than following the lemmings and “jumping off the cliff.”

  6. Thank you for your comment Colette.

    I agree that overpopulation is the number one factor causing pressure on ecosystems, our water supply, resources, etc. And yet, very few of us are talking about it. Reducing population numbers implies limiting the number of children families can have, which raises moral and religious questions. We need a one-child policy all over the globe.

    I’m familiar with Elizabeth Kolbert’s book but have not yet read it. It’s on my list. I’m afraid that the Sixth Extinction might include our own extinction as a species.

    These are my other links. Thanks for your interest.
    LIKE my Facebook page:
    FOLLOW me on Twitter:


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