If we thought like our pet dogs and cats, moment to moment, we’d be forgiven if we thought this winter snow will never melt. Our sidewalks will be forever clogged, our roofs will continually sag, and those darn ice dams would be a permanent fixture of our homes. But we know the days will get warmer, the snow will melt, and more than likely Earth Day (April 22nd) will be snow free. While we pine away for the prospects of a warm, green Earth Day in Rochester, we can find at least a few minutes to ponder our past, present, and future.
I know, this is taking on a lot for a short essay. So, I’ll just cover a few highlights. We are born, we live, and then we die. But that doesn’t really cover it. We live in the past, present, and future--in our minds. But actually, just like our pets, we only ‘live’ in the present. If anything goes wrong in the present, our past and future vanish. That’s why we invented planning. We use past knowledge to help us plan now for the future.
Our pets don’t plan (although they will merrily salivate at the prospect of food). If our world were to end tomorrow, our pets wouldn’t care today. They’d just continue to stare out the window at the cold and ice. We would care, though. One of our most basic assumptions that we all entertain, no matter what our beliefs, is that life here on Earth will go on after we die. Everything we do will carry on in a sense through our children, our books, our good works, etc. This assumption about our past, present and future makes our lives meaningful.
Climate Change may interrupt all this. If, as 97% of climate scientists warn, we don’t stop greenhouse gas emissions from increasing now and plan to adapt for the changes already coming in the future (because we didn’t deal with this in the past), all this mental time traveling will be over.
In our present, we are banning Fracking in New York State. Many of those who helped stop that bad energy option are now planning for better energy options that won’t warm up the planet. These folks are asking the question: Can those who assembled to stop something bad come together to start something good? Also in our present, bomb trains continue to detonate because too many of us are living only in the present. Note: In China’s present, they are trying to come to terms with having planned for their future using past development: “Chai Jing's review: Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog.”
In the future, the COP21 Paris Climate treaty will attempt to “achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world” (Wikipedia). Much from our past stands in the way of a happy treaty outcome in December. The accumulated attempts to force our past into our future (see “Merchants of Doubt” coming to a screen near you) and a whole lot of business as usual thinking will assure a bleak future indeed.
In Rochester’s immediate future (April 21), we’ll have Dr. Hansen, world-renowned climate scientist and activist, come and explain some of this: “Climate, Energy, and Intergenerational Justice.”
Our pets, wonderful creatures we designed (bred) to love us, will continue to ‘love’ us regardless of how we act in the present towards our future—even though they will share our destiny. Our children, those wonderful creatures who will be as capable of thinking in the past, present, and future as ourselves, may not be so understanding.