Dear Aaron, Meghan and Bret,
Today, instead of teaching others how to write a legacy letter, I’m writing one of my own. On this day before Earth Day 2008, I want to share with you some of my wishes for your futures.
For me, Earth Day is a time of reflection, a chance to look back at what we’ve learned about our fragile ecosystem since the first Earth Day in 1970 and how we’ve done in the years since in making our planet more hospitable for all of its creatures. Since our very existence is intimately intertwined with our stewardship of Earth, I’m hoping that your generation and those that follow will manage our planet’s resources better than mine has.
Frankly, I don’t remember much about that first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Your mother and I had been married less than three weeks, I was reporting to my first regular duty station in the Air Force and we were struggling to figure out how we could manage to live in Northern California on a second lieutenant’s salary. Although we were relocating to a hotbed of environmental activism, our contribution at the time was pretty much limited to not buying colored toilet paper.
As a family, we’ve grown to be more responsible over the past 38 years. But even with our relatively modest lifestyle, we would need more than one Earth if everyone lived as we do. And, as more people worldwide attempt to do just that, the strain is showing.
It is cruelly ironic that U.S. oil production peaked in the same year that Earth Day was born. Up to that point, the United States was the world’s leading oil producer and exporter. In 1970, 93 percent of the world’s energy came from fossil fuels. Although that percentage has dropped to 85 percent today (due mostly to increased use of nuclear power), the world consumes nearly twice as much fossil fuel-based energy than it did in 1970.
Given that fossil fuels are a finite resource in increasing demand and that their carbon dioxide emissions are responsible for many of the world’s environmental problems, it is clear that there is trouble ahead. Considering, too, that the modern global economy was built on cheap oil, international manufacturers that raced to the bottom line in the “boom years,” may find themselves foundering as a new world economy emerges. Despite the obvious, there are some who still view the cost of fuel as the problem rather than a symptom of a far greater problem.
The 20 million Americans who took to the streets in 1970 got the attention of federal politicians who went on to pass the Clean Air Act and form the Environmental Protection Agency. But government action has been slow and erratic, falling well behind the relentless pace of change of natural forces.
I’m proud with how each of you has positioned yourself for the challenges that lie ahead. You’re all sensible, responsible, productive members of your communities. I believe that no matter what awaits you, you’ll come up with creative, thoughtful solutions.
I regret that my generation hasn’t done a better job of managing the precious resources of our planet. Certainly our parents did their part, surviving the Great Depression and turning back the tyrants that threatened global stability in World War II. The world our parents turned over to us was one full of promise and hope. And, although we lived many years with the fear of world nuclear annihilation just the push of a button away, those same years were prosperous ones.
Our parents simply wanted us to have what they didn’t have. We took it and wanted more. And more, and more. As probably the most pampered generation in history, I think we unwittingly created a culture of entitlement where a man’s worth is measured more by what he owns than by his personal code of conduct.
When songstress Joni Mitchell wrote that “we are stardust,” her lyrical expression was an accurate reflection of scientific fact. Everything around us is derived from materials that were on this planet millions of years before humans. The genius of man is that he has been able to take the raw materials provided by nature and transform them into the buildings, roads and iPods that we use today. Even the cheap oil that has sustained us for the last 100 years or so is the result of decaying organic matter.
So here is what I hope for you, my children, and your descendants:
- Clean air to keep your lungs clear and your spirits buoyant.
- Fresh water to drink, bathe and play in.
- Nutritious and readily available food to sustain you.
- A reasonably healthy life, uncluttered by the ravages of disease, toxins and warfare.
- A life partner with which to share the joys and sorrows that will inevitably come your way.
- Comfortable shelter to protect you from the elements, to give you safety and refuge in times of stress, and a place where you may rest your body or enjoy the companionship of others.
- Friends that will support you in times of need and give you a swift kick in the rear when needed.
- Close and cordial relationships with your immediate family members, whose aggregate knowledge reflects the wisdom of generations past.
- The confidence that your own life experience has positioned you to make appropriate decisions concerning your own family’s welfare.
- Proper standing in your own community commensurate with your skills, knowledge and personal beliefs.
- A strong spiritual faith that connects you to your natural environment and keeps you centered on those things in your life that truly matter to you.
- That you develop and practice the virtues of compassion, truthfulness and generosity.
- That you find contentment in all you do, that you find it within yourself to accomplish your dreams and that you concentrate on matters within your control and accept what you cannot.
- That you live a full life, true to your own beliefs without doing harm to others.
With love always,
Photo: Meghan, Aaron and Bret Lehmerby lwlehmer.