Daddy, could we have our planet back now?

A Father’s Day essay on the world we’re leaving our children

Salon just published my Father’s Day essay.  It’s a sequel of sorts to “Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?

As parents, we constantly admonish our children to share with others. The joke is that as adults, we hardly like to share anything at all. Who likes to lend out their car? Or their tools or books? We’re so worried they won’t come back in the same condition — or won’t be returned at all.

But the truth is that the people we like to share the least with are our own children. “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children,” the saying goes. Right now, though, we’ve borrowed the entire Earth, trashed much of it, and don’t plan to give back the rest of it.

We are plundering the world’s “renewable resources” — arable land and tropical forests and fisheries and fresh water. And we are using an ever-greater fraction of nonrenewable energy resources, especially hydrocarbons, with devastating consequences that will far exceed what we are now witnessing in the Gulf of Mexico.

As one example, our carbon pollution is acidifying all of the oceans simultaneously, while heating them up to record levels, threatening mass extinction of aquatic life. Australian marine science professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the lead author of a major new study in Science, says the result is that “we are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail.” He adds: “It’s as if the Earth has been smoking two packs of cigarettes a day” — except, of course, the smoke comes from our addiction to fossil fuels, not the Earth’s.

The website RealClimate points out that the amount of dangerous carbon dioxide we spew into the air each day from burning fossil fuels and deforestation is roughly equivalent to “five thousand spills like in the Gulf of Mexico, all going at once … every day for decades and centuries on end.”

And if we listen much longer to those anti-science disinformers who have been counseling inaction, we won’t just be trashing the climate for our children — we will be destroying a livable climate for countless future generations. A 2009 study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that “the climate change that is taking place because of increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.” What kind of changes? Well, besides destroying the oceans, the study warns of “irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the ‘dust bowl’ era and inexorable sea level rise.”

The dust bowl that will hit the American Southwest and a half-dozen other heavily populated regions around the Earth will likely last far, far longer than the one that devastated the Great Plains in the 1930s. And the sea level rise could hit 4 to 6 feet by century’s end and then continue rising a foot or more a decade, until all the land-based ice on the planet is gone and seas are more than 200 feet higher. How will our children’s children and their descendants adapt to that?

The big debate in the Senate this summer will be whether to pass an energy and climate bill that finally puts a price on carbon pollution. Conservatives have demagogued even the most moderate, business-friendly proposal to put a price on carbon, falsely labeling it and “energy tax.” In his big speech last week, President Obama praised the House bill, which would establish a shrinking cap on carbon and a rising price, but he himself never mentioned the threat posed by unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions, or the urgent need to make polluters pay for emitting carbon dioxide. As a result, the prospects have dimmed for serious climate legislation this year.

To refuse to place a price on carbon dioxide pollution is to ignore the damage your actions today will inevitably have on the health and well-being of your children and everyone else’s children. Something to think about on Father’s Day.

Related Posts:

15 Responses to Daddy, could we have our planet back now?

  1. paulina says:


    Thanks for this and hope you have a beautiful day with Antonia.

  2. Lou Grinzo says:

    Joe: Please give Antonia a hug from all her virtual aunts and uncles out here in the infosphere.

    Everyone: One of the many points I keep trying to drive home with people is that we should not be so selective with our compassion. Why can we so casually turn a blind eye to the awful plight of another person, simply because he or she isn’t a relative or personal friend of ours? This widespread world view — I don’t “have to” care about you or do anything at all to help you because you’re not “mine” — is the ultimate example of the toxic, right-wing alloy of greed and myopia. Of course we care more about those who are “ours” than we care for “others”; to suggest otherwise would be painfully naive. But I wish more of us could act as if all the children of this world were ours.

  3. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Joe –

    your focus on the moral imperatives of action on climate seem to me dead right – and to offer a potentially major change in popular thinking on the issue – for all they are as yet largely unreported by activists and media alike.

    In my view the major distraction has not been the denialism, for all its volume, but rather the dead-end ’80s meme of attempting to advocate for climate through motivations of self-interest and profit via maintaining climate services and via remedial and ‘less-bad’ technologies –

    Show me a profit from the long-term defence of the ecosphere and, as a rule, I’ll show you a quicker and larger one by mining it out asap and processing it to dollars for shareholder dividends.

    That critical ’80s messaging con needs widespread discrediting – the only real basis for ecosphere defence is patently a moral one.

    In this light, an aspect of the moral case that may have great potential in an essentially nationalistic society is that of national self-esteem – by promoting the realization that America is on course to go down in history as having had lead responsibility for the greatest genocide by serial famines the world has ever seen, a very significant change in popular priorities may be achieved.

    All of which is not to under-estimate the denialists’ obstruction of change, nor the significance of the ill-advised foreign policy constraint on Whitehouse action, but rather to focus on arousing insatiable demand for change among the quiet majority that now supports climate action, and to extend that quiet support among the rural and religious right.



  4. Raleigh Latham says:

    A blunt and utterly truthful message that should resonate with any sane human being, thank you Joe.

  5. Wit's End says:

    It seems appropriate to post a link to R. Pauli’s excellent essay: “About that global warming…Sorry, Kids”—sorry-kids.html

  6. Wit's End says:

    Oh great, more extreme, record-breaking weather events that aren’t linked to AGW!

    “Southern China experiences flooding almost every summer, but the pattern may be changing. According to the Beijing climate centre, extreme weather events have increased in recent years. It says droughts are becoming longer and rainfall comes in more intense and damaging bursts.”

  7. Thanks Joe and thanks Wit’sEnd

    Interesting verb forms of the words: father and husband.

    As a member of the human species, is our task as fathers to create offspring or is it to craft the future of the species? Both of course, but neither is not acceptable.

  8. MonkeyMuffins says:

    I prefer the reality based maturity and wisdom of Dr. Albert Bartlett (professor Emeritus, Physics Department, University of Colorado:
    -Arithmetic, Population and Energy
    -YouTube playlist, parts 1 through 8
    -switch the upper-right, “Autoplay” Option to “on”

    We live at the end of empire, during the century of contraction, in a culture of make believe.

    We are not going to grow, consume, indebt and complicate our way our of the problems of growth, consumption, debt and complexity.

    We got everything we wanted and lost everything we needed.

    Finite Earth is a reality to be adapted to, not a problem to be solved.

  9. Richard Brenne says:

    Many of the All-Stars (Leif? Mike? Jeff?) are out in full force:

    Joe, great essay for Salon.

    Lou Grinzo, great point, adding to Joe’s great points. The idea that “my family” is all that matters leads to Mafia-like thinking as in the Godfather movies, where Michael Corleone loses his family, the only thing he had to live for. This deification of family leads to everyone else being the “other” that needs to be destroyed if it negatively impacts our family.

    Richard Pauli, that is a great essay Wit’s End linked to – thank you, and thanks to Wit’s End as always.

    And Wit’s End, it’s interesting how the Southern Chinese drought-flood so perfectly follows the climate change predictions – without knowing exactly where and when the double-edged sword of droughts and floods will strike. (And my own guess is that if Chinese coal had been in the monsoonal-moisturized south instead of the much more arid north where they are, the Chinese could’ve been motivated to build steam engines to pump the water out of coal mines long before the Englishman Newcomen’s steam engine in 1712, possibly anytime up to a thousand years ago.)

    And most of all, I appreciate MonkeyMuffins, or at least your comment there at #8. Al Bartlett is my hero and father figure, has appeared on and attended about 15 hours of the panels I produced and moderate, and I recently spent another amazing day with him.

    MonkeyMuffins, each of your lines is incredibly well thought-out and poetic. Are those original with you? I think we should each quote you (or whoever else we can also credit) and those world-class talking points. We need to develop just such lines and then repeat them millions of times in all mediums. Great work, all of you.

  10. Wit's End says:

    What are we teaching the children?

    Leonardo di Caprio video banned for classroom; educational book removed for “minor” error

  11. Chris Winter says:

    From the Omaha newspaper story:

    Three parents, including Robyn Terry, complained to the district. The Terrys’ 12-year-old son attended Beadle Middle School last year. Mrs. Terry said that the materials used in his class portrayed global warming as fact when scientists disagree.

    Robyn Terry is the wife of Nebraska congressman Lee Terry. I don’t think I need to ask which party he belongs to.

  12. Chris Winter says:

    I browsed the site of the Omaha World-Herald looking for blogs. Most are for sports, but there is one devoted to weather. It’s called “Nancy’s Almanac.” Here’s the first paragraph of today’s post.

    A good day has arrived, we can only hope — the first day of summer. After a brutal winter and spring of blizzards and flooding, we can only hope that summer will be kinder.

    I’m not faulting the paper for running the story about the book; that’s straight reporting. But I’m motivated to find out exactly what that book says.

  13. Chris Winter says:

    Apparently the whole controversy flows from the graph on page 18, which portrays the time relationship between CO2 and temperature based on the Vostok core data. The critics say the labels for the two curves are switched.

    World Nut Daily ran a story in September 2007 saying that Robert Ferguson of SPPI first pointed out the error.

  14. Chris Winter says:

    OK, I have a copy of the book in front of me and I’ve looked at the graph. I think the problem is that it puts present time on the left. Someone who missed this might think the two curves were mislabeled. As far as I can tell it is fine for its intended purpose, which is showing the broad relationship between CO2 and temperature.

    I’ve posted a query on Laurie David’s Web site. I’ll pass along the gist of any answer.

  15. J4zonian says:

    I wonder if the Millard Public Schools carry a copy of the Bible, which contains many, many major errors in fact. etc.

    Why doesn’t someone with a copier and a copy of the book mail the library a sticker to cover and correct the graph? Stickers to cover the mistakes in the Bible can start as soon as they remove that from the shelves. Or maybe there aren’t any congressmen’s wives complaining about that. Or the new Texas-mandated national textbooks full of what might charitably be called mistakes.