John Mott-Smith
Davis, California, United States

Letters to and from the future

“I hesitate to burst your bubble, but I have to tell you that things didn’t quite turn out as you indicated.”

Dear Maceo (the name of my descendant to whom I am writing this letter),

The Paris Climate Talks are over and I’m very happy to report that, finally, world leaders came together and didn’t leave the table until they agreed upon the seriousness of the climate change issue and took strong and significant decisions that I believe will make your life, and the lives of all living beings, very much better than if the conferees had failed once more.

I’m proud that the United States, despite years of organized opposition from political and economic special interests that denied that climate change is even a problem — much less that we could and should do something about it — took a real leadership position. As expected, the European Union also was on board, but I think the big surprise for Western industrialized countries was the serious and creative participation from countries such as China, India and Brazil that are finding ways of cutting emissions while retaining their commitment to bringing their populations out of poverty.

It’s my hope that the positive outcome of the talks is a sign that ‘both sides’ see their responsibilities. Countries with industrialized consumer economies recognize that these economies developed over centuries of burning fossil fuels that created the climate change problem and they now accept their moral obligation to fix it.

And the newly industrializing nations such as China, India and Brazil acknowledge that they cannot follow the same patterns of development relying on fossil fuels. I wish I could be there with you in the future, but at least it appears we did not fail you.

Sincerely, your loving ancestor, John Mott-Smith

Astonishingly, shortly after I penned this letter to Maceo I received a response, a letter from the future.

Dear John,

Thank you for your letter. It was great to hear your optimism about the future that I live in and I hesitate to burst your bubble, but I have to tell you that things didn’t quite turn out as you indicated. The agreements of the Paris Talks turned out to not be worth the paper they were written on.

No sooner had the delegates to the talks left and gone home to their individual countries than things started to fall apart. All those ‘special interests’ you refer to in your letter, rather than figuring out how to participate in the new future, began to undermine the agreement. Over time, countries found their reduction targets hard to meet, or even come close to, without generating political turmoil. Jingoistic voices were raised decrying perceived loss of freedom and control in the face of regulation of nations by international treaties.

All the while, the seas rose, the ice melted, the Earth warmed and storms became more severe. The tensions caused by these adverse conditions gave voice, as has always been the case in human history, to finger-pointing, blame and an ‘I’ve got mine and I’m not about to share it with you’ attitude accompanied by an increase in military budgets and conflicts between nations. Food and water shortages resulted in shorter tempers.

I know that you were a nature lover and, perhaps the saddest thing I can report is the dramatic degradation of the natural world. We’ve lost countless species, both plant and animal, we have deserts where there were forests and much of the oceans are now dead of life. I could go on.

I know this is grim, but I wanted to let you know, the Paris Talks, and the momentary euphoria their apparent success created, is not enough. I want you, and everyone else to keep trying, don’t give up, the future is not yet secure.

Sincerely, your loving descendant,

John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis with a new grandchild; he publishes a column in The Davis Enterprise on the first and third Thursdays of each month.