Blog to the Future: A Letter From my Great-Great-Great-Grandchild

Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter this year. Photo: Mark Pynes | pennlive.com mpynes@pennlive.com

It’s 2022, and Groundhog Day was February 2 (all those 2s!). What better time to emerge from my winter blog-free burrow and share the shadow with my home state’s oracle. Yes, he saw it, so we’ll be celebrating six more weeks of winter. Yes, celebrating! More winter is a welcome prediction in our melting world of climate crisis.

In case you’re just joining us, I’ll recap my Life as a Groundhog: I’m a biology professor living near Philadelphia. In 1993, I told undergraduate students at Eastern Illinois University that human production of heat-trapping gases, beginning when Prometheus gifted us with the fire of coal in the Industrial Revolution, had measurably raised the Earth’s temperature and that this could have serious, and mostly unknown, consequences. In 1997 I had students at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina role-play as nations, trading carbon-emission rights while we witnessed a real-life international meeting on climate, inauspiciously named “COP 3.” It produced the agreement known as the Kyoto Protocol, which unfortunately was not ratified by the U.S., and had little tangible impact. Fast forward to 2015, when biology students at Penn State Brandywine, my present employer, were variously engrossed by or rolling their eyes at my excitement as the Paris Agreement (COP 21) suggested a real turn-around. Finally, leaders of countries emitting the most carbon (China, the United States, and the European Union) spearheaded a commitment by essentially every nation to significantly reduce planet-warming gases and keep global temperature increases from reaching 2˚C above preindustrial levels. The pattern you see here, besides that I can’t keep a job, is that policymakers were grudgingly beginning to stop climate change.

The iconic “hockey stick” graph demonstrating global warming, from a 1999 paper by Mann, Bradley, and Hughes. Twenty-three years later, the line is still going up.

But in 2021, my hopeful and positive attitude in the classroom had descended into a deep, dark pit in the earth. Lack of U.S. leadership by climate-deaf Donald Trump is partly to blame. But governments generally are not implementing the commitments of the Paris Agreement (which only got us one-third of the way to 2˚ anyway, while the acceptable threshold had dropped to 1.5˚C), not funding action nor enforcing compliance, and bickering over who is to blame and who will pay for it all.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres at COP26. He later summed up the conference: “. . . it’s not enough. It’s time to go into emergency mode.” Photo: UN

And then came the next “critical” meeting in Glasgow in November 2021, as the COPs ticked away — this one was #26. I emerged from the tunnel once again to stand before my classes of perpetual teenagers and repeated the drone: Here’s the physics, which has created imminent danger, but has been met with political cowardice, and so far we’re failing dramatically. The rhetoric from Glasgow was pretty good, but will it mean action as the U.N. Secretary General implored, or will it be more “blah- blah-blah,” as Greta Thunberg famously lamented?

This Groundhog-day scenario has made me quite jaded as I fail to shrug off the Bill Murray mantle. How do we end this greenhouse-groundhog nightmare? And how do I, personally, avoid the despair that leads to inaction?

My solution last summer was to become more active through political engagement. Conscientious personal lifestyle choices are always on my agenda as well, but they’re not nearly enough anymore. I started a blog to document my journey and keep me on task, and you’re looking at it right now. I wrote about letter-writing, lobbying, commenting in the Federal Register, and more, even gardening, and I encourage you to click on my past missives. After a holiday break (from blogging, not from activism) I’m back on the page, albeit a bit less frequently. I’ll be sharing once a month rather than biweekly. You might hear about my venture into TED-talking, recording testimonials for Sierra Club, quitting Spotify, and whatever I get into next as spring warms me up.

Today I’ll just share a bit of visioning I was asked to do as part of a planning meeting of climate activists. Each of us was asked to write a letter from a hypothetical twelve-year-old descendant living one-hundred years from now, thereby imagining the future we were working for. It was a great exercise in balancing what I’d like to think happens with a dose of realism. I recommend you try it too. You might be inspired!

19 January 2122

Dear Mark,

It’s been a really fun day! I’m back in Williams Heights after the huge MLK celebration in Delaware County with my aunt’s family, who also had hir 110th birthday. It’s too crowded and expensive there for my folks, but interesting to hear my aunt talk about hir childhood when all the climate refugees started coming from Jersey and lower Philadelphia. They can afford to live there thanks to their super-successful solar hydrogen coop, which is cool. I love playing in their aquaculture house with all the plants, butterflies, and fish. I just wish they’d shut off the Beethoven and let me hear some Uzbek Hot. (I did once when I was there alone because they were at a Sierra Club meeting — don’t tell!)

All four of my parents came to Media. After the party we took the bullet train back since we need to tend the nursery stock for the orchard. We’ll be interplanting avocados and oranges this year. I help until school, but I’ve also chosen the Farming Framework for all my classes. I love working outside, watching birds, seeing all the wind turbines above on the ridge, and the river way below by the Williamsport Floodplain Historical Site. Hardly anybody comes to our B&B now, but tourists will be here before you know it to see that, and the Pipeline Riot Memorial, and the Susquehannock Wilderness to look for some elk and bears and wolves.

We also got a new Jamaican restaurant next door set up by people from New Kingston. My best friend is from there, and sie and I pretend to protect people from the pirates that came when Kingston went underwater and hir ancestors had to leave for the mountains. Neither of her damas talk about it, but we studied it in school, like when they had to learn how to farm on steep slopes. Maybe when I grow up I’ll travel around the world on airships and help people grow food without hurting animals and plants. They say even YOUR grandparents farmed, but not oranges. I guess some things change, but some things never do.

OK, that’s all for now, I’m supposed to go get my COVID-42 shot.

Love you,

Marque

If you’d like to try a hopeful letter from your offspring, send it my way and I can share.

We’ll see you in March.

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I’m a teaching professor of biology and researcher in agroecology at Penn State Brandywine, intent on developing my inner climate activist.

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Mark Boudreau

Mark Boudreau

I’m a teaching professor of biology and researcher in agroecology at Penn State Brandywine, intent on developing my inner climate activist.

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