“Boise, Idaho — Twenty-five years ago this month, more than 1,500 prominent scientists, including over half of the living Nobel laureates, issued a manifesto titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” in which they admonished, “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”
They cited stresses on the planet’s atmosphere, forests, oceans and soils, and called on everybody to act decisively. “No more than one or a few decades remain,” the scientists wrote, “before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost.”
I was 19 years old when their warning was published and though I understood, in a teenager-y, “Rainforest Rap” sort of way, that humans were messing with the planet, the document freaked me out. It was so urgent, so dire. E. O. Wilson had signed it. Carl Sagan had signed it!
So did I act immediately and decisively? Um, I did not. In the ensuing years I wrote checks to some conservation organizations, replaced some incandescent bulbs and rode my bike to work. I hammered together a composting bin that promptly fell apart. I gave a self-important lecture to a neighbor on the importance of using his recycling can.
I also hurtled through the troposphere on hundreds of airplanes (each round trip from New York to London costs the Arctic another three square meters of ice), bought and sold multiple automobiles and helped my wife put two more Americans onto the planet. Our air-conditioning compressor is at least a decade old, my truck averages 15 miles to the gallon and I routinely walk up to a podium, open a brand new plastic bottle of water, take a sip and promptly forget that it exists.”
“Here’s what I think happens with me. Maybe I wake up, turn on my phone, read something like, “On average, populations of vertebrate species declined by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012,” and I feel queasy — as though I’m living in a world that’s a shadow of the world I was born into — and at the same time I probably also get a little less sensitive to the insanity of our trajectory, and then I put down my phone and get swamped by the tsunami of the day: One kid has strep throat, another needs to go to the dentist, I’ve forgotten six or seven internet passwords, the dog just pooped on the rug.
Hour by hour, minute by minute, I make decisions that seem like the right things to do at the time, but which prevent me from reflecting on the most significant, most critical fact in my life: Every day I participate in a system that is weaponizing our big, gorgeous planet against our kids.”
To the Editors of the NYT.
From David Lindsay Jr, Hamden, CT
Thank you to Anthony Doerr for a magnificent op-ed. It has many great moments. Many of us who are listening, and studying the effects of global warming, are deeply concerned for our great, great grandchildren. My favorite of many sentences, “Everyday I participate in system that is weaponizing our big, gorgeous planet against our kids.”
Praise is important, but criticism, like the brakes on my Prius, are what create new energy, and appear to make the wheels go round. My complaint against Antony Doerr, is that he didn’t cite his sources for some extraordinary facts or claims. None of them had a hypertext link to an internet source, such as, “(each round trip [on an airplane] from New York to London costs the Arctic another three square meters of ice)”, or “On average, populations of of vertebrate species declined by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012”.
My greatest criticism, is for the New York Times, for cutting short the discussion in the comments section. My guess is that they are worried about how expensive it is to read and moderate all the comments. Unfortunately, when they cut off important discussions on critical topics, they are robbing Peter to pay Paul. They only allowed 378 comments, on what in my humble view, is the most important topic in the whole paper. The most popular comment goes like this:
Things won’t change until powerful people stop getting rich by preventing change.