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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

(Page 3)

All in all, our chemical obsession was pretty reckless and we got into that same old pattern: just couldn’t give up all the neat stuff.  Oh, we tried.  We took the lead out of gasoline and banned DDT, but mostly we did too little, too late.  I hope you’ve done better.  Maybe it will help your generation to run out of oil, since so many of the toxic chemicals came from that.  Anyway, we didn’t see it coming and we could have, should have. Our bad.

There are so many other things I wish I could change for you.  We leave behind a noisy world.  Silence is rare today, and unless some future catastrophe has left your numbers greatly diminished, your machines stilled, and your streets ghostly empty, it is likely that the last remnants of tranquility will be gone by the time you are my age.

And how about all those species, the abundant and wondrous creatures that are fading away forever as I write these words?  I never saw a polar bear and I guess you can live without that, too, but when I think of the peep and chirp of frogs at night, the hum of bees busy on a flower bed, the trill of birds at dawn, and so many other splendorous pleasures that you may no longer have, I ache with regret.  We should have done more to keep the planet whole and well, but we couldn’t get clear of the old ways of seeing, the ingrained habits, the way we hobble one another’s choices so that the best intentions never get realized.

Mostly I’m sorry about taking all the good water.  When I was a child I could kneel down and drink from a brook or spring wherever we camped and played.  We could still hike up to glaciers and ski down snow-capped mountains.


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Clean, crisp, cold, fresh water is life’s most precious taste.  A life-giving gift, all water is holy.  I repeat: holy.  We treated it, instead, as if it were merely useful.  We wasted and tainted it and, again in a geological moment, sucked up aquifers that had taken 10,000 years to gather below ground.  In my lifetime, glaciers are melting away, wells are running dry, dust storms are blowing, and rivers like the mighty Colorado are running dry before they reach the sea.  I hate to think of what will be left for you.  Sorry.  So very, very sorry.

I’m sure there’s a boatload of other trouble we’re leaving you that I haven’t covered here.  My purpose is not to offer a complete catalog of our follies and atrocities, but to do what we taught your parents to do when they were as little as you are today.

When you make a mistake, we told them, admit it, and then do better.  If you do something wrong, own up and say you are sorry.  After that, you can work on making amends.

I am trying to see a way out of the hardship and turmoil we are making for you.  As I work to stop the madness, I will be mindful of how much harder your struggles will be as you deal with the challenges we leave you to face. 

The best I can do to help you through the overheated future we are making is to love you now.  I cannot change the past and my struggle to make a healthier future for you is uncertain, but today I can teach you, encourage you, and help you be as strong and smart and confident as you can be, so that whatever the future holds, whatever crises you face, you are as ready as possible. We will learn to laugh together, too, because love and laughter can pull you through the toughest times.

I know a better world is possible. We create that better world by reaching out to one another, listening, learning, and speaking from our hearts, face to face, neighbor to neighbor, one community after another, openly, inclusively, bravely.  Democracy is not a gift to be practiced only when permitted. We empower ourselves. Our salvation is found in each other, together.

Across America this morning and all around the world, our better angels call to us, imploring us to rise up and be as resilient as our beloved, beautiful children and grandchildren, whose future we make today.  We can do better.  I promise.

Your grandfather,

Chip Ward

Chip Ward, a TomDispatch regular, co-founded HEAL Utah and led several grassroots campaigns to make polluters accountable.  He wrote “Canaries on the Rim” and “Hope’s Horizon”, was an administrator of the award-winning Salt Lake City Public Library, and then retired to the canyons of southern Utah.  His latest work, just published, is “Dance, Don’t Drive: Resilient Thinking for Turbulent Times”. His essays can be read at  He can be written at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Chip Ward

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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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Clash's avatar

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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Clash's avatar

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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moonraven's avatar

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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