What it Means to Live for the Future

Megan Anderson

In my work, I’m asked to think about the future a lot – the future of the planet and the future of human relationships. We’ve been told that in 20 years – perhaps even less – we will begin to seriously feel the effects of climate change. Water could become scarce. Many crops could be decimated due to the lack of pollinating insects left. Heat waves, polar vortexes, and strong storms could irrevocably change the places we live. Diseases long locked away in arctic glaciers could emerge as they thaw.

In 20 years, I’ll be only 46 years old. In 20 years the child sitting next to me on the plane as I write will be 22. What will she think? Will she ask why we didn’t do more? Will she wonder why the burden of a weeping planet in pain has been placed upon her shoulders? What animals and plants will be left for her to see? Will she wonder, whether she herself should bring children into a world stretched so thin it’s on the verge of breaking?

Sadly, there are many children already facing Earth’s moaning. Many places in the southern hemisphere lack reliable access to clean water. There are islands in the Pacific in the process of sinking. Conflicts are popping up more rapidly as resources become scarce – sometimes under the guise of religion. And – something that has been said often but is always important to note – these children and their parents have contributed the least to the global crisis we face. As an American, I am well aware of my and my country’s complicity in this. America is the second highest polluter in the world. The capitalist economy, the way people of color and certain cultures and religions have been marginalized and mistreated, and the lack of awareness (and care in some cases) of how actions impact the environment, is harming – and in some cases leading to the death of – people thousands of miles away. People that Americans will never meet. People whose history and story we will never know. This is neither an easy nor fun thing to think about. Feeling trapped in a system that causes me to harm others – knowing most of what I do to survive in this society increases the struggle for others to survive (both here and abroad) – is depressing. Knowing there are more things I could be doing to protect the planet but haven’t for reasons that I’m aware are not sufficient, is disappointing to say the least.

I do not mean to say no one is making a difference. There are many people and organizations working incredibly hard to change society for the better. I work with amazing people trying to do just this. But there needs to be a larger and deeper awakening than we currently see. The radical interdependence of all lifeforms needs to strike us to our very core. Technology will not save us if we destroy the natural systems that sustain life.

Many Native American traditions have a guiding principle to always act with the seventh generation in mind. They also have a culture of reverence and gratitude for Mother Earth. Humans are mere visitors of Mother Earth and therefore they must care for the gifts she generously provides for our survival. We’ve failed to do either of these well and it’s time we begin to think seriously about what it means to live in a way that preserves a clean, healthy, and vibrant planet for children seven generations from now.

One thing that gives me hope in this regard is the concept of an ecological civilization, which the Institute for Ecological Civilization has been working on. Ecological civilization seeks to integrate our vision for a sustainable future with practical steps to move this vision forward, and do so in a way that results in solutions that are viable for the long-term. It is about changing the way live in relationship to our surrounding ecosystems rather than simply creating solutions to mitigate the damage we’re experiencing and are projected to experience in the future. It addresses the urgency of now and the vitality of future generations.

The project of ecological civilization is also inherently intersectional. It is impossible to create sustainable (ecologically and timewise) solutions if we create them in sector silos. How we think about the solution pollutive energy requires thinking about the structure of cities and how they relate to their urban environments. It requires an understanding of ecosystems so we can integrate renewable energy in ways that disrupt these environments as little as possible.

For example, any solution to our water crisis must involve thinking about agricultural practices – how can we use water more efficiently? How do we cultivate soil that retains water better? How can we integrate crops that mutually support each other and reduce the amount of water needed? It includes thinking about cultural issues surrounding water and the way women’s rights in some parts are violated as they are forced to walk miles to find water every day. It includes the meat, clothing, and recycling industries, all of which require immense amounts of water to operate. The solution is not a singular entity, but the result of many mutually supportive solutions.

Our choices and behavior now will determine our future. This has always been the case of course, but they carry greater weight today as we have reached a tipping point in the earth’s history. An ecological transformation is a transformation in thought, action, and spirit.

I leave you with a few questions to think about:

  • What changes (personal and societal) need to be made to prevent a full-fledged environmental collapse? (We are beginning to see hints of this now)
  • How willing are you to make these changes?
  • What blocks you from doing more? (I think about this one a lot and sometimes my reasons aren’t justifiable. Working through these blocks is important and an ongoing process)
  • How does embracing radical interdependence change the way you interact with the world?
  • If you were asked to write a letter to the seventh generation, what would you say?

Megan Anderson is a recent graduate from the Claremont School of Theology.  She is pursuing a career at the intersection of religion, society, and social change. She brings a background in program coordination for the Institute for Ecological civilization (EcoCiv), and serves as Associate Editor and Webmaster for The Interfaith Observer (TIO), a free, online interfaith journal.