To The Future, Sorry For Everything

This essay is a message from this century to the next: we were told and did nothing anyway.

A new report from the United Nations says that by the year 2050 up to one million species could be extinct and humans are to blame. Mammals, reptiles, fish. The ecosystems that allowed them to survive for millions of years. Gone.

This is just one of many dire predictions from the scientific community.

I may still be alive in 2050. If the fires or riots don’t kill me, and if I continue to eat my weight in oatmeal, I may make it. If I’m still breathing during the epic turmoil to come I hope I have a pretty good answer for the young born into a world of neverending natural disasters. I won’t though. “What were you thinking?” they’ll ask and I guess I’ll just shrug. An apology would be dishonest. We were debating, I’d say. “What were you debating?” I honestly don’t know?

The truth, of course, is that, for the most part, we were locusts with potbellies. All we did was eat food while watching others eat food on screens. TVs were inexpensive but medicine was not. What we didn’t eat we burned.

The modern world was full of convenience and entertainment and the energy required to fuel the party was poison. But we just ignored that part. There were a few doomsayers, experts and politicians, who knew what they were talking about, so maybe a couple of modest monuments should be built next century to honor their efforts. The inscriptions could read: “Well, they tried.”

I sometimes like to entertain myself by imagining what people in the not-so-far-flung future will think of me, and you, and everyone currently alive. It’s a grim amusement but I like to think our great-grandchildren, and their children, will be kinder to one another, more open-hearted, less selfish. I like to think they’ll learn from our mistakes. Trees don’t grow on trees, you know?

I also like to think they won’t have much respect for their ancestors. That’s us. I hope we’re ridiculed and mocked and despised. We deserve it. I hope they curse us. I give them my blessing. It’s the least I can do. After all, they’re the ones inheriting a wheezing, sweating planet coughing up blood.

One day, at the end of this century or next, a child born on a dying world will watch an old cartoon movie about colorful fish in the sea on a screen and someone will have to explain that those creatures — clownfish and sharks, starfish and seahorses — existed once upon a time but, sadly, they were murdered by the previous generations.

Humans will be taught there was a time when the world was green and lush and teeming with life but, hey, that’s over and now everyone lives in bunkers and eats sausages made from sustainable proteins like maggots (and those sausages will come in flavors, like Ranch and Nacho Cheese.) They were warned but did nothing, will be one common refrain. They took billions of photos of sushi and oysters and steaks, will be another.

They will have a point. We were told what was coming. The scientists told us. The military, too.

Even the fossil fuel companies knew that their industry was destroying the climate but denied it anyway. These companies built oil rigs taller because they knew the seas were rising but then pretended that the seas weren’t rising. I suppose history will answer why they lied but here’s a theory: executive vacation homes aren’t cheap.

There were people who didn’t want to believe it because they were told not to believe it and those who didn’t believe it because they didn’t like to be told what to think. I suppose when the calamity is impossible to ignore there will still be people who will resist the truth, even as it unfolds before them.

Millions will starve. Drown. Diseases will kill some, violence will take others. There will be chaos and hopelessness. The poor will march like defeated armies in search of new homes. Billionaires will grill steaks inside luxury arks. If there is any justice those will be pried open like tombs, years later.

The end of the world would be a mercy but humanity will retreat, adapt, reinvent itself. It will take a long time and what will be will not be what once was. I hope its better. You and I and our little lives will be forgotten or, even better, erased and that will be a very small price to pay.

Written by

Editor, Humungus. I won two James Beard Awards once for an essay about Taco Bell. Let’s be friends.

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