If we forced ourselves to look three or four generations beyond today—maybe just one or two—would we make the same mistakes we’re making today? Would we correct our errors to the extent possible, preparing the world to be safer and more survivable and more welcoming to those who will follow? Or would we continue to justify our excesses and our gross misbehaviors, convincing ourselves that everything will work out just fine…because it always does?

At the moment, I’m thinking of water, that precious commodity that sustains life. That vital element without which, after just three days, we die. We’re diverting water to farms in areas not hospitable to agriculture, allowing crops to be grown in places better suited to the unrestrained natural world. We’re demanding suburban lawns be planted and maintained, their insatiable demand for water emptying reservoirs and demanding new channels to direct water to deserts. We’re giving priority to watering golf courses over almost every other demand for water, allowing the middle classes and their economic masters and superiors to enjoy recreation at the expense of the future.

A generation or two or three or four hence, unless we mend our ways, water will be a terribly scarce commodity in many places. Places where, today, we waste it because it’s easy to waste. We’re sufficiently selfish that we spend our descendants’ very survival on luxury and convenience today. We build in places that, today, exude luxury but will become ghost towns when the water runs out. We carefully plan resort communities that will shrivel in the sun when rivers dry up and aquifers empty. We tell ourselves that “someone” will craft workable solutions; “don’t worry, it will all work itself out.” I doubt it. Oh, maybe we’ll delay the inevitable by a generation or two, but Las Vegas and the Central Valley and much of Arizona and New Mexico and west Texas eventually will succumb to our self-indulgent greed. And places we think are “safe” will be just as dangerous as supplies of water dwindle. The massive infrastructures designed and built to sustain cities and enormously productive agricultural regions will collapse on themselves, victims of misplaced hope that “someone” will fix the problem.

It’s not just us, today, at fault for the futility of the future. Every generation before us, in spite of all their spectacular advances and all the gifts they have given us, failed to successfully address the flaws imbedded in their, and our, innate optimism. Just because things have always worked out does not mean they always will. We have kicked the can down the road ever since the Industrial Revolutions began. And we bought into the fantasies that a series of Industrial Revolutions and a Digital Revolution would fix all the problems ingrained in our perpetual march toward “more” and “better” and “further.” Perhaps an as-yet unspecified “revolution” will delay cataclysmic collapse for a few more years, but I’m glad I did not count on it. I’m glad I do not have to bear the guilt that my children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren will suffer for the arrogance and selfishness greed of their ancestors—my selfishness, with my decision not to have children, erased that guilt for me.

I opened this piece by musing about whether “we” might correct our mistakes if we could see how they would affect succeeding generations. My answer is an unequivocal “no.” We never have, no matter how much we knew how great a toll our selfish greed would take on those who follow. We choose to ignore that fact to this day because facing it would be too painful and the guilt to great. Accepting our responsibilities for assuring a dystopian future for our children and their children would be too painful, so we simply choose to ignore or reject the blame that rightfully falls at our feet.


I suspect most people who read this blog, whether regularly or only occasionally, tire of my pessimism. They probably tire of me taking humanity to task for its inhumanity. Their disappointment in me for failing to be sufficiently cheerful is noted; but it doesn’t matter. I only wish we all would take our responsibilities seriously and would, collectively, repair the damage we are doing to the future.

It’s not just water. It’s consumption of all resources available to us. It’s reliance on non-renewable sources of energy. It’s depletion of wildlife habitat. It’s spoiling what once were clean environments. It’s our acceptance of war as a legitimate means of settling differences. It’s mocking or condemning those who are different from us.

What a miserable way to start a weekend; thinking about humanity’s massive failings. But if we insist on “fixing” the mood by sweeping it under the rug and replacing it with happy thoughts of splashing in wading pools with our grandchildren or plans for relaxing on luxury river cruises, we’ll do nothing to assuage our guilt. And  nothing to minimize the contempt the few remaining future generations will have for us for failing to do something; anything.


I realize, of course, I am a hypocrite for writing this. Like everyone else, I have to get away from reality by enjoying life and forgetting that I am making no significant contributions to a better future for those who will inherit it. But maybe trying to prompt at least a few people to periodically remember what we are—or, more realistically, are not—doing to secure the future will contribute at least a little to delaying the inevitable.

Welcome to a dreary Saturday morning.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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