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A Message to A New Graduate

My youngest son graduated from high school this week.  Each year, senior parents write a letter that is presented to the graduate along with the diploma at the ceremony. What started for me as a simple congratulatory message became an expression of a much-deeper and more urgent hope. Yes, I want him to get a good college education and experience a career that he loves. Just as strongly, however, I pray that he will get to have the same enriching experiences with nature that I have had: a house with a garden, vacations spent out on the water, days spent hiking on the trails, all enjoying our planet’s breathtaking diversity of plant and animal life.

I worry this is a pipe dream because the forest where I explored and caught snakes, butterflies and insects is now a housing subdivision. The waters off Maine where I fished in the summers have far fewer mackerel, flounder and dogfish. And the beaches where I walked finding driftwood and seashells are now littered with an abundance of plastic in all shapes and sizes.

I worry because, to my son, this world is his “normal.” The ever-hotter summers and snowless winters; overcrowded cities, schools and parks; traffic congestion; airplanes flying overhead all day long; beach closures from pollution; and campsite lotteries to "win" a chance to commune with nature.  

Griffin, I am sorry my generation has left you this legacy.  There are too many of us consuming too many resources and emitting too many wastes. We didn’t mean to do it. Thanks to the abundant energy at our disposal, we were fruitful, multiplied and relatively quickly overwhelmed the natural world.

Unless we start to take action that will ultimately bring down our human numbers to achieve a balance with nature, you and your generation will have to forget about  living “normally.”  Instead of living in a spacious house, you will have to get used to one room-living with minimal furnishings,  plumbing and electricity, without air conditioning, central heat or hot water. Healthcare will be limited. Meals will mean giving up a varied and rich diet and surviving solely on locally-grown fruits, vegetables and grains. Electronics will be limited to a cell phone and you will only have a few sets of clothes and shoes. You will need to relinquish your dreams of exploring the world, because you will have to give up riding in a car and flying in planes.

What I am outlining is not a horrible existence. It’s one that many people in the developing world already live. But it is drastically different from what you and the other billions in the developed world have come to expect. The problem is that your “necessities”are actually irresponsible luxuries if the almost 8 billion humans on this Earth are to live equitably and sustainably well into the future. 

Happy Graduation and Good Luck, Son. 

Go forth, and if you would like to try and maintain your “normal,” for the sake of nature and all its beauty, I encourage you and your generation not to multiply.

Much love,