My granddaughter, born in the summer of the great Gulf gusher, faces a tumultuous world. I do not know what the world will look like when she is my age.
Dianne Dumanoski’s latest book, The End of the Long Summer, begins with this paragraph:
The future in the modern imagination has always stretched out ahead like a broad highway drawing us onward with the promise of tomorrow. Now rather suddenly, as it becomes impossible to ignore dramatic physical changes taking place across the Earth, the future looms like an urgent question. Whatever the coming century brings, it will not unfold smoothly as some improved but largely familiar version of life as we now it. This is the only thing that seems certain.
Dumanoski’s elegant, relentless analysis shows how Western culture and what we know as civilization has been built on an anomaly of stable climate, abundant fossil fuel, and economic growth. None of these can last. We may slow the changes now underway but we can’t stop them, predict them, or control them. And they are upon us.
Half of the human transformation of the Earth, she points out, has taken place in the last 50 years. As a result, “we are already witnessing nature’s return to center stage as a critical player in human history. This development, more than any other, will shape the human future.”
Our culture has not prepared us for what will take place in the next hundred years. “For four centuries it did not seem to matter that the vast construct of modern civilization rested on an inaccurate view of nature or that our culture map was missing vital information. Now it matters most of all.”
Dumanoski is a renowned science journalist who coauthored Our Stolen Future, which unveiled the threat of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. She has chronicled developments from the discovery of the ozone hole to the Slow Food movement. Her thoroughly scientific analysis in The End of the Long Summer makes clear that science and technology will not save us; what hope we have may lie in the (scientifically demonstrated) human capacity for flexibility and adaptability in the face of huge environmental changes and challenges.
She has few detailed prescriptions, just some broad ones: drastically reduce the human footprint, develop modularity, redundancy, and flexibility in our institutions and societies. But she ends with a call for “honest hope” and for arming our children and grandchildren for the dangerous passage of the next century with understanding, wisdom, and courage.
This we can do. We can keep our own hopes up, grounded in a cleareyed view of how much we humans have unleashed and how little control we have over what happens next. We can keep our courage up and work for the changes that we can bring about. We can lobby, legislate, march, and persuade. We can come up with new ideas and laws that incorporate wisdom. We can model the kind of spirit, individual and communal, that makes the human presence on this planet a harmonious part of the living whole.
With our grandchildren we can tend gardens, cook for crowds, tell stories. We can explore the libraries of human knowledge and expose our own ignorance. We can take the train, swim, bike, and sit still for hours among the trees. We can build self-reliance and the joy of cooperation. We can clean rivers and restore urban woodlands.
We can also huddle together in the storms, clean up after the floods, wrap up against the cold, collect precious water. We can do with less. We can mourn the losses. We can take in refugees. We can celebrate life.