Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Forget Sunscreen, Be Resouceful: A Virtual Graduation Speech to the Tufts Class of 2099

Forget Sunscreen, Be Resouceful:

A Virtual Graduation
Speech to the Tufts Class of 2099



[Editor's note: The following text is a virtual graduation speech
intended for the eyes and ears of college graduates in the year 2099,
and perhaps 2009 and 2010 as well.]

Good afternoon, Class of 2099,

I can't be here in person to address you, since I passed into oblivion
long ago. But as a member of the Tufts graduating class of 1971 here at my own
beloved alma mater in Boston, I wanted to leave you with a brief
message -- from the past to the future -- about global warming and
climate change.

As the class of 2099, you are about to enter the 22nd Century in a few
more months, and you will bring with you not only your university
experience but also your career expectations and personal anxieties as
citizens living on a planet in the midst of a climate crisis. I'm sure
you've heard this term a lot in the past four years -- "climate
crisis" -- but you should know that in my days as a student, we never
used the phrase. Back then, we had not even heard of the term yet!

Back then, of course, we were focused on terms such as Cold War,
nuclear winter, war on poverty, racism, the oil shock, the Middle East
situation, and later on, towards of our "three score and ten" on
Earth, newer terms such as 911, terrorism and global warming.

I'm not around now, but I hope you can read my message online and
perhaps view it on a digital recording in a public library. Before I
continue, I just want to take a few moments here to wish you all the
best of luck in your future life and the best of health to enjoy the
luck that I am wishing for you. May all your dreams come true, and
then some!

Members of the Class of 2099, you are living in a very crucial time in
the history of humankind. Your world stands at the threshold of a
period of human history when very important decisions will have to be
made about the use of fossil fuels and the "consume! slash! burn!"
lifestyle that you have come to expect.

I wonder: do the names James Lovelock or James Hansen or Al Gore still
ring a bell in your generation now, or have new faces and names
replaced these far-seeing men? Is that book by Mark Lynas, titled "Six
Degrees", still in print, or has a new besteller on climate change
become the must-read of your generation? Is that documentary from
2006, "An Inconvenient Truth", still in circulation? And what about
Leonardo DiCaprio's "The 11th Hour"? Have you ever heard of the movie,
or has it been all but forgotten in your day and age?

By the way, have you men and women of the Class of 2099 heard by now
about such global warming adaptation strategies as "sustainable
population retreats" in northern regions, once referred to as "polar
cities"? The terms were coined back in 2006 and some people blogged
them for a couple of years before mainstream scientists and engineers
went even deeper into the concepts involved.

Class of 2099, I want to leave you with seven words: "We must tighten
the noose around coal".

Dr. Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University in the U.S. wrote those
words more than 100 years ago, and they were prophetic. Has your world
tightened the noose around coal? Has your world started to tackle the
vexing problems of overpopulation, climate change and the creation of
a sustainable economy? Is global warming something that will shape
your future, or are the denialists out there still complaining that it
is a hoax?

Whatever your own personal views are about global warming, pro or con,
or just sitting on the fence in the middle of the debate, you should
know this: there is not much time left. I hope your generation finds a
way to stop the burning of fossil fuels and also finds ways to
mitigate the impact of climate change on your future world. I just
said that "there is not much time left". Maybe I should have said
"time is running out". Or maybe I should have said: "Time has run

Whatever. Class of 2099, go out and help create your world. Good luck
and God bless!