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Planning for an Unknowable Future

November 15, 2010 – Back in 2009, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a report saying that temperatures will remain hotter than average for 1000 years after greenhouse gases cease being emitted. How much hotter? Another NOAA report says 9 – 11 degrees Fahrenheit hotter across the United States. That, of course, is an average: some places will experience even hotter temperatures, others cooler temperatures. The hottest, it appears, will occur in the Arctic.
Moscow is feeling the pinch already, with temperatures 20 degrees above normal this November. 2010, NASA tells us, will be the hottest year in 131 years of record keeping.
What will life be like, when winter is the season everyone looks forward to, and summertime temperatures cause human beings to work, and play, in the dark? How will future generations teach our great-great grandchildren to look forward to a better time they will never know? Tree planting will become a human being’s sacred duty, and setting fires without a permit punishable with a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. Will we become more religious, or less so? Will we be thinner, will families be closer? How far will our standard of living have fallen, and how much will we care?
Let’s try to imagine what life in a globally-warmed world will be like. The year is 2110. A Green Party administration is in power – again! – and the President of the United States was, at one time, CEO of the world’s largest manufacturer of hydrogen-powered cars. That, of course, was before sea level rose another foot, back during the 80’s, bringing total sea level rise to an astronomical 35 inches. What with the backlog of infrastructure damage – the result of decades of hurricane-strength inland storms - waiting to be fixed, and ever-increasing numbers of people being pushed toward the center of the country by the disappearing coastline, long-distance travel has become a difficult, dangerous business. Automobiles are not as widely owned as they once were, thirty years ago.
In fact, of all of the ironies in this Age of Irony, the one that always causes Americans to shake their heads, is the return of the horse and buggy! Local roads are in much better repair than interstate expressways, so all kinds of vehicles flourish in towns and cities.
Businesses have, in fact, re-localized to a great extent, meaning that shopping can be accomplished within towns, or even neighborhoods. Barter has become an effective means of doing business, and for those occasions when money is called for, local currencies frequently suffice. American dollars can also be used.
There’s a birthday party going on at the McAllister’s house. As is so often the case when marking a significant event, a tree planting is taking place in their front yard. Unfortunately, because of the unbearable heat during the summer just ended, the tree planted last year died. But because of the spirituality and dignity inherent in fostering life on the beleaguered planet, the McAllister’s will try again. The cool fall temperatures – it’s 12:00 noon, and still only 74 degrees – have encouraged friends and neighbors to be part of the event. The potluck served afterward will be followed by game playing, singing, and story-telling, some of which will take place around a fire department-approved campfire later in the evening, when temperatures quickly cool off.
Some of the guests at the McAllisters’ party will already have gone home and gone to bed by then; making the switch from working during the night back to working during the day is hard on some people. While most people are given the option of continuing to work nighttime hours, few choose to do so. The shorter daylight hours complicate matters even further. The soccer games attended at 5:00 in the morning back in July take their toll on children and parents. By the time everyone sits down to breakfast at 7:30 in the morning, it can already be a sticky 85 degrees. Homework comes next, followed by an hour of reruns, and then it’s off to bed, blinds down and light-blocking masks firmly in place.
Children growing up in 2110 don’t know any different, so they listen to stories of a time when weather didn’t play havoc with the lives of mortals with wide-eyed interest. The enormous piles of refuse created by endless windstorms did not exist back in the old days, and parents didn’t have to clamber over the treacherous mounds, looking for various oddities that will make life a bit easier. While the homegrown food they eat is delicious, and caring for the chickens in the backyard a great source of entertainment, they remain transfixed by tales of huge stores called supermarkets, and of the granddaddy of them all: Wal-Mart. The local food co-op is not exactly fascinating, and it supplies limited kinds and quantities of foods, most of them in-season. No one goes hungry, but adults sometimes wear a preoccupied expression on their faces in early spring.
Might it be like that? Yes, somewhere, at some time in the future. In other places, it could well be quite different. The point is, give it some thought. Human beings do best when they PLAN for the future. Try to explore what the future might reasonably be, in your neck of the woods. Talk about it with others, talk about it in a non-scary manner with your children. Make up stories about it! We just can’t know exactly what lies ahead, so we need to raise resilient, resourceful children. Time to get started.


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