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Appetite for Self-Destruction

Appetite for Self-Destruction

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We Screwed Up: A Letter of Apology to My Granddaughter

Posted on Mar 28, 2012
Kim G. Appels (CC-BY)

By Chip Ward, TomDispatch

This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch.

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[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

Dear Maddie,


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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.

I hope we develop clean, renewable energy sources soon, or that you and your generation figure out how to do that quickly.  In the meantime, sorry about the climate.  We just didn’t realize our addiction to carbon would come with monster storms, epic droughts, Biblical floods, wildfire infernos, rising seas, migration, starvation, pestilence, civil war, failed states, police states, and resource wars.

I’m sure Henry Ford didn’t see that coming when he figured out how to mass-produce automobiles and sell them to Everyman.  I know my parents didn’t see the downside of using so much gas and coal.  The all-electric house and a car in the driveway was their American Dream.  For my generation, owning a car became a birthright.  Today, it would be hard for most of us to live without a car.  I have no idea what you’ll do to get around or how you will heat your home.  Oops!

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By prosefights, April 3, 2012 at 6:27 pm Link to this comment

Solar generation of electricity may be a good idea if matched to the right electric loads.

One stop Gardens may have blown the whistle on good idea on solar generation of electricty app?

Google ‘solar lights prosefights’ and look for ‘solar lights’.

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By Clash, April 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm Link to this comment

Interesting that they got the statement backwards, We are enslaved to the machines, their food is coal, oil and gas, and the do well on a diet of the suffering of humans. No better or worse than those who fed the beam engine.

While we may not be able to escape some may avoid the flying debris when the train goes off the cliff.

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By prosefights, March 30, 2012 at 6:39 am Link to this comment

Profound sentence ‘Machines are our slaves and coal, oil, and gas are their food.’ needs expansion to include: And they don’t do well on a diet of wind and solar produced electricity.

Google ‘Case No. 12-00007-UT’
Google also ‘solar pollution riots china’

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By do over, March 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm Link to this comment

Escape is not an option.

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By prosefights, March 29, 2012 at 5:53 pm Link to this comment

Google ‘cornwall mining’

Click on ‘Levant mine’

We may be going back to before the industrial revolution?

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By Clash, March 29, 2012 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment

There are no brakes on this train, 40 years of listening to the excuses of the best and brightest, nothing has come of it, no reason to to list into ad nausea all the failures of this civilization. Change is coming sooner than you think and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.

T.A. Edison commented in the 1930’s that it would be wise to look for alternatives to coal and oil as soon as possible, but here we are.

Apology not required nor accepted.

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By gerard, March 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm Link to this comment

The thing many people are just now beginning to understand worldwide is that violence breeds violence, injustice breed injustice.  And in the opposite direction, the alternatives breed better outcomes:  knowledge and understanding breed more widely spread, deeper knowledge and understanding, and successful attempts to bring about more justice lead to more successful attempts to bring about more justice.
  It’s too soon to give up, IMO.  And even if I’m wrong, I’d still rather go down working for knowledge, understanding, justice and better lives for as many as possible as soon as possible. What else is more worth while? What else makes life more worth living.

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By moonraven, March 29, 2012 at 11:57 am Link to this comment

Ozark:  I agree with you about this site.

It reeks of dirty (US government) money now.

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By moonraven, March 29, 2012 at 11:55 am Link to this comment

The radioactive colonization of Native America has constituted the last phase of the Indian Wars (sic). 

Some whites have had to die in the process of the campaign, but the US government considers that it is a small price of collateral damage to pay as they try to eliminate that pesky last 5 percent of us….

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By prosefights, March 29, 2012 at 11:26 am Link to this comment

Don’t count on solar or wind generation of electricity to get the world our of possible future power problems.




Applicant   )

Case No. 12-00007-UT


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By diman, March 29, 2012 at 5:53 am Link to this comment

“I hope we develop clean, renewable energy sources soon, or that you and your generation figure out how to do that quickly”

Why don’t you tell your grandchildren the truth old man? That there is no hope for them!

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By Clash, March 28, 2012 at 6:04 pm Link to this comment

This letter is just a bad joke by some lame square, right?

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By OzarkMichael, March 28, 2012 at 6:00 pm Link to this comment

On behalf of my generation, i want to apologize to all future generations for spending all their money upon our shovel-ready projects.

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By Big B, March 28, 2012 at 5:12 pm Link to this comment


always love reading your tripe. libretarians and conservatives always have the same mantra, “I’m gonna do whatever I want, to hell with everybody else. To hell with the future.”

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By OzarkMichael, March 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm Link to this comment

On behalf of my generation, to all of you who visit this website, I want to apologize for the lopsided mess that Truthdig has become.

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By gerard, March 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm Link to this comment

The fat lady has not sung yet—and hopefully, when she does sing, it won’t be the “Star Spangled Banner.”

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By Mairead, March 28, 2012 at 3:25 pm Link to this comment

Agreed, BrilliantBill. 

Mr Ward, your fulsome apology is neither necessary nor useful.  Your grandchild is not likely to die in her bed (or anyone else’s).  Her fate is much more likely to be a premature death by starvation, disease, or violence as the habitable world shrinks and dessicates.

I’d urge you to revisit your politics and become a fang-and-claw radical.  We need to get rid of feudalism (currently manifesting as private-profit capitalism) root and branch, and make post-partum sterilisation mandatory all the world around after 0.5 live birth per person.

Otherwise, Dr Lovelock’s prediction will be the fate of your granddaughter, my great-granddaughter, and all the other granddaughters of all the other high-order species on Earth:  a world that no longer supports our kind of life.

Put down the keyboard, the sackcloth, and the ashes, and get weaving.

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By berniem, March 28, 2012 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment

Not all free market conservative capitalists are bad people; but the vast majority of bad people are free market conservative capitalists! FREE BRADLEY MANNING!!!!

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By BrilliantBill, March 28, 2012 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment

I’m sure Mr. Ward means well, and I’m sure he’s personally doing what he can to “save the planet.” However, this comes across as embarrassingly self-important and self-indulgent—so much so it makes me cringe.

Perhaps the antidote is George Carlin’s observation that this planet will simply shake us off like a “case of bad fleas.”

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By Anarcissie, March 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment

Personally, I’m sorry about World War 2.  I know I hadn’t even been born when it started, but somehow I could have tried harder, bouncing around out there in the void, I’m sure.

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