There is going to be a legacy to the present times that our children will have to bear, and I’m not just talking about the many new debts that the Bush administration is leaving them to pay. There is a good chance that our children, when traveling or doing business abroad, will be treated like pariahs. They will be blamed for the way the boomer generation ignored our pollution and turned our backs on developing countries in their time of need. Others will point out that we did it all knowingly, that we knew exactly what we were doing when we decided to turn our backs on them.
Thanks to our weakening of the mileage standards, the miles per gallon declined for 25 years – and there are now twice as many cars on the road because of inadequate investment in public transport.
Because we elected to burn coal and oil for electricity rather than build safer nuclear power plants, we have fueled greenhouse warming, leading to exactly the climate change that our own scientists warned us about, starting in 1956.
Together, cars and carbon power have not only fouled our nest but those of people far beyond our borders. You can’t treat a commons such as the air and the ocean as a sewer without others noticing – and organizing to make your life miserable in retaliation.
When climate change hits even harder, the other countries who have contributed a lot of CO2 will also become unpopular – but the world’s irritation will focus especially on the countries that, like the US, didn’t try to do anything about it despite ample warning and a high technology capable of great things. Who didn’t devote a significant amount of resources to developing clean power, clean refrigerators, and clean cars for the developing world so that they don’t have to burn their coal, oil, and forests just to improve their standard of living. Who once helped them slow their population growth but then conspicuously retreated into religious fundamentalism.
Our past record shows that we knew what we were doing, that it wasn’t merely ignorant blundering. The spread of militant religious fundamentalism elsewhere will help convert exasperation into hate, as well as to organize an effort to "bring us down." You would think that the present leaders of this country thought that Armageddon was a good idea and had set out to promote it.
Being responsible world citizens was once a good idea, even a moral imperative for many people. Now we need to do it to keep the next generation from suffering from our own mistakes. We see ourselves as a great country and in many ways we are, but unless we get our act together and conspicuously try to make up for the past 25 years of arrogant neglect, our citizens will be treated as pariahs in coming decades.