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Commentary: A great-grandmother reflects on sustainability

This commentary for the Opinion page was submitted by a reader and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

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By Judith S. Rose, Alexandria, MN

As the opinion submissions from the Citizens for a Sustainable Future continue to appear in the the Echo Press, I have been reminded of an opinion piece of my own that appeared in the daily news in Midland Michigan on August 24,1997. I couldn’t really remember what I wrote, so after digging through the detritus of 25 of my last years to see if there was a copy anywhere — there was! A headline had been assigned: “The Sustainable Development Report is One We Should All Take an Interest In.”

At the time of my writing, there was some excitement in the Midland, Michigan community that one of the vice-presidents of The Dow Chemical Company was a member of a federal council on sustainable development. The council had issued a report, “Sustainable America: A New Consensus.” As a member of the local League of Women Voters, I was writing to call attention to the report and its availability in our public library.

In my opinion piece, the editor had pulled a quote which read, “The truly conservative challenge is to seriously study how we can organize a society and provide a resource base that will sustain our descendants. A more flamboyant approach is tempting though! Perhaps we should ask ourselves why we wouldn’t want to bequeath an earth that is more abundant than the one we ourselves have known.” The tone of that thought was prescient since I write today as a great-grandmother.

All of this has compelled a personal season of reflection on what can happen in 25 years. Last week’s news was of the planetary attainment of a population of 8 billion people, among them my baby great-grandson. According to Worldomenter, the number of people accommodated on the planet in 1997 was 5,905,045,788. In percentage terms, this is more than a 35% increase in the planetary liability for those to be fed, housed, transported and reasonably accommodated. In other terms, one might speak of the burden of what we hope to bequeath. How to say any of this is a challenge to my range of terms, comparisons, values, factors or calculations.

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One change in providing for our added 2 billion plus is an apparent proliferation of warehouses and storage places. The development of apartment dwellings is obvious where ever you go which is accompanied by an extension of highway routes and on/off ramps. Landscapes that I enjoyed and took for granted are now obliterated. As I recall 1997, the landscape changes were expanding subdivisions.

Of course, there is the atmosphere, still mostly colorless although there has been a change in my awareness of fire skies in recent summers. And then, there is the keeling curve which we hardly spoke of in 1997. In that year, the concentration of carbon dioxide reached 365 parts per million, but current frequent comments are of its crossing to 420 parts per million as it continues to rise. Of course, we hear increasingly of ocean changes: increasingly acid, increasingly warm.

Thinking only in terms of human existence seems not quite enough. Twenty-five years of the National Geographic have sounded a drum beat of alarms about many environments and their wildlife populations. Sometimes I have wondered how I would handle a moment of telling my special child that his stuffed elephant once existed, as the dinosaurs did, but are no more because…?

But, such tellings are already required. I lived a childhood near a body of water under the ownership of black terns. That life is gone now — no squawks, no tippy flights. It hasn’t been comfortable to hear myself telling my cohort of descendants of the life once there. Nor, is it unusual to hear friends and relatives telling stories of extinctions of local wild things and how they miss barks, songs, hoots and calls.

As a great-grandmother, I can argue that I am rather worn out, but this very act of writing convinces me that there is much to sustain and that I must get myself to those gatherings of Citizens for A Sustainable Future on the second Monday of the month at 1 p.m. at the REA building to address my legacy for those to come.

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