At our relatively advanced ages, Chip Ward and I couldn't be more modern. We've never met, only e-met (and chatted on our cell phones). We may never meet. He lives in the backcountry of Utah and while he travels extensively, it's not on trails I'm likely to be following, nor is it to the big city. I seldom leave New York and when I do, it's not for Utah. Still, I feel as if, after all these years working together, we are in some sense friends on the same planet, thinking similar thoughts -- and never more so than today.
After all, when I began TomDispatch.com, my impulse was strikingly similar to the one that clearly animated him to write his latest post. As a book editor, I felt I had done good work all my life, putting words into our world that made -- or at least should have made -- some small difference. But when our bombing of Afghanistan began in October 2001, the writing was already on the wall for anyone to read. Watching the Bush administration, absorbing its imperial pretensions, sensing where they might lead, knowing that we were already "at war," and that the country was being turned into some new kind of garrison state, I suddenly felt that nothing I had done was faintly good enough.
That sense actually went remarkably deep. I have a daughter and a son whose future I care about. I knew in some visceral way that we were heading into the worst years of my life, which meant theirs, too. I had a strong feeling that I simply couldn't sit back and let them (and their peers) inherit the kind of planet I feared was in their future -- not without doing something to resist our moment. Since I'm no megalomaniac, I didn't expect anything to come of it; I simply felt a powerful need to raise my hand, to act, even if I had no idea how.
The result was a no-name listserv I began sending around late that October, first to friends and relatives and then to whoever jumped aboard. Nothing surprises me more than this: a decade-plus later, I'm still obsessively involved with its spawn, TomDispatch.com. I just had the urge to act in a way that seemed to fit with my life, an urge -- thought of another way -- to say to my children that I was sorry for the world I was leaving them. And so there is some special satisfaction in posting this letter of Chip Ward's, a man who (unlike me) really has spent significant parts of his life trying to make this a better planet for his neighbors, children, grandchildren, and all the rest of us. Tom
We Screwed Up
A Letter of Apology to My Granddaughter
By Chip Ward
[Note: I became politically active and committed on the day 20 years ago when I realized I could stand on the front porch of my house and point to three homes where children were in wheelchairs, to a home where a child had just died of leukemia, to another where a child was born missing a kidney, and yet another where a child suffered from spina bifida. All my parental alarms went off at once and I asked the obvious question: What's going on here? Did I inadvertently move my three children into harm's way when we settled in this high desert valley in Utah? A quest to find answers in Utah's nuclear history and then seek solutions followed. Politics for me was never motivated by ideology. It was always about parenting.
Today my three kids are, thankfully, healthy adults. But now that grandchildren are being added to our family, my blood runs cold whenever I project out 50 years and imagine what their world will be like at middle age -- assuming they get that far and that there is still a recognizable "world" to be part of. I wrote the following letter to my granddaughter, Madeline, who is almost four years old. Although she cannot read it today, I hope she will read it in a future that proves so much better than the one that is probable, and so terribly unfair. I'm sharing this letter with other parents and grandparents in the hope that it may move them to embrace their roles as citizens and commit to the hard work of making the planet viable, the economy equitable, and our culture democratic for the many Madelines to come.]
March 20, 2012
I address this letter to you, but please share it with Jack, Tasiah, and other grandchildren who are yet unborn. Also, with your children and theirs. My unconditional love for my children and grandchildren convinces me that, if I could live long enough to embrace my great-grandchildren, I would love them as deeply as I love you.
On behalf of my generation of grandparents to all of you, I want to apologize.
I am sorry we used up all the oil. It took a million years for those layers of carbon goo to form under the Earth's crust and we used up most of it in a geological instant. No doubt there will be some left and perhaps you can get around the fact that what remains is already distant, dirty, and dangerous, but the low-hanging fruit will be long-gone by the time you are my age. We took it all.
There's no excuse, really. We are gas-hogs, plain and simple. We got hooked on faster-bigger-more and charged right over the carrying capacity of the planet. Oil made it possible.
Machines are our slaves and coal, oil, and gas are their food. They helped us grow so much of our own food that we could overpopulate the Earth. We could ship stuff and travel all over the globe, and still have enough fuel left to drive home alone in trucks in time to watch Monday Night Football.
Rocket fuel, fertilizer, baby bottles, lawn chairs: we made everything and anything out of oil and could never get enough of it. We could have conserved more for you to use in your lifetime. Instead, we demonstrated the self-restraint of crack addicts. It's been great having all that oil to play with and we built our entire world around that. Living without it will be tough. Sorry.