An Open Letter to My Great Granddaughter

Featured imageI haven’t met you because you have not been born yet. But while I still have clarity of mind and the blessings of good health, I wanted to take this opportunity to reach out and apologize for the mess that my generation has left you with. I am writing this letter to you in the year of 2014, but I suspect it will be somewhere around 2030 before you are old enough to read and understand what I have to say here.

Your Great Grandfather, that’s me, was born in 1946. That was the first official birth year of the generation known as the Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomer generation followed the Greatest Generation. The Greatest Generation was made up of those brave and hardy Americans that struggled through the great depression of the 1930’s.  It was also the generation whose soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944 at great human sacrifice, in what turned out to be the pivotal battle leading to the defeat and destruction of Hitler and the Nazi party in World War II. The French people hailed the American soldiers as heroes as they liberated them from the oppressive Nazi tyranny.  Today, they don’t like us much. Go figure.

The Baby Boomer years lasted until 1964, which incidentally was the year that I graduated from high school.  The two most influential events of the early sixties were the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of President Kennedy, both occurring in 1963. While we didn’t know it at the time, these events set the stage for what would be a massive political and cultural divide among the citizens of our country.

There was a war going on during the middle 60’s in Southeast Asia in a place called Vietnam. It was a very unpopular war. Unlike the soldiers of the Greatest Generation, those of us that were deployed to serve in this conflict were not looked upon as heroes and patriots. In fact, we were despised in many circles, including our own citizens.  But, we were just doing our job and answering the call of duty, just like our fathers did in WWII and their fathers before them in WWI.  After my discharge from the army in 1969, which included three consecutive years in Southeast Asia, I returned home to a country and society that I barely recognized.

Those born after 1964 were referred to as “generation x”.  This was the generation of your grandparents.  After the “x’ers” came the “y” generation and so on. I’m not sure what label they will assign to your generation, but I hope it is one that will be remembered in history for the courageous and dedicated efforts to fix the awful mistakes of your ancestors and a commitment to avoid repeating them in the future.

As I write this letter at the age of 67, I am two years into retirement. I retired at age 65, which is the age that most of my generation began receiving social security payments and government paid health care benefits under a program we called Medicare. I doubt that these programs will be available to you to the extent that they were for us, but I hope so. You see, the United States is currently $17 Trillion in debt and counting, and no one has a clear plan on how to fix this. Our treasury keeps issuing more debt because we simply don’t have enough money to pay for our expenditures. It is projected that by the year 2025, the interest on our debt plus the cost of Social Security and Medicare will exceed all revenue collected by the federal government. Meanwhile, our politicians are intent on keeping interest rates low, so our federal reserve is actually buying a large portion of that debt on a regular basis. You’re probably asking yourself, where did they get the money to do that? They printed it. Really! Have you ever heard the expression, “robbing Peter to pay Paul”?  I think this practice is dangerous and could ultimately destroy the purchasing power of our dollar, and it is clearly unsustainable. Regarding sustainability, we actually have a host of other problems of global proportions which, by the time you read this, should be of no surprise to you.

The dinosaurs roamed the earth for 160 million years, and along with decaying vegetation, were largely believed to be the source of fossil fuels, i.e., oil, coal and natural gas. The first commercial oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859. But it was the discovery of vast oil reserves in Texas at the turn of the 20th century that started the oil boom.

Until recently, it was believed that peak oil production occurred in the United States during the early 1970’s, which implies that most of our country’s oil reserves were used up in less than 100 years. That is a pretty scary thought especially when viewed against the backdrop of 20,000+ years of known human history on the planet. Since then, we have feverishly pursued additional fossil fuel supplies around the globe, by whatever means possible, in order to feed our addiction and sustain our lifestyle.

As oil prices climbed over $100 per barrel a few years ago, the technology of hydraulic fracturing began to take hold which suddenly made it economically feasible to tap shallow shale oil reserves in our country. This is going on now, and I guess it’s a good thing because it reduces our dependence on foreign oil from countries, many of which are considered hostile to ours. As I write this, the United States makes up less than 5% of the world’s population, but we are consuming 25% of the world’s oil production. I hope this newfound supply of oil doesn’t lull us to sleep to the point that we fail to acknowledge and address the greater systemic issues, the most important of which, should be to focus on reducing our consumption of fossil fuels.

Climate change is a topic of great debate today.  One’s opinion of the cause of these phenomena largely depends upon which side of the political spectrum you fall. The Left attributes the drastic weather patterns to global warming caused by humans.  Those on the Right that accept the notion that our climate is changing, say it is just due to natural weather cycles.  Nonetheless, the problem is real and clearly getting worse. Among my chief concerns, besides the prospects of more devastating floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes, is the future of farming and our ability to produce an adequate food supply that is both safe and sustainable to feed an ever growing population.

In my lifetime, the world’s population has tripled from just over 2 Billion to the current level of 7 Billion. That is a staggering 250 percent increase in just 67 years. Clearly this growth is not sustainable and no one expects it to continue at anywhere near that pace. There has been meaningful progress to bring that rate down during the last few decades. In fact, by the time you read this in the year 2030, it’s my guess that the world population will be in the neighborhood of 8.5 Million, given the current rate of growth. Nonetheless, an increasing world population and the ensuing competition for scarce and declining resources will most surely pose serious challenges to future standards of living, while further straining the planet’s overtaxed and fragile ecosystem.

Continuing along the theme of natural resources and climate change, I should note that we are currently experiencing a very severe drought here in California.  Water is a resource that seems to be taken for granted – that is until it is scarce. Although the heavens supply our world’s population with four times the water that is needed in the form of rain and snow, it doesn’t all fall when and where it is needed. Water is a finite resource and nonrenewable. New water is not created. All the water that exists in the world is either in the oceans, lakes and rivers, aquifers, or the atmosphere.

Sea levels are rising.  Although I am not a scientist, I believe that this is probably due to of higher water temperatures, violent storms at sea, and glacier meltdown associated with climate change. I suppose that when the cost of water gets high enough, we will then get serious about desalination of sea water as the preferred method of supplementing existing freshwater supplies where they are needed.

So, other than apologizing for my generation’s misdeeds without offering specific blueprint of solutions, why am I writing this letter to you? Well, it is my hope that others that are either now, or will be, in a position of power or influence will read this and gather some inspiration from it. And in doing so, will accept the challenges and vow to make a difference before it is too late. Meanwhile, I promise to do what I can to make things a little better for you, your children, and your grandchildren.