Solving the Marty McFly climate paradox

We arrived to the future long time ago, yet we keep talking about the “future generations”. Why?

I was born in 1983, and I recall watching “Back to the Future” over and over again. The VHS tape would eventually break, because of my fascination about time travel. And here I am, travelling in time, reaching a far more distant future than Marty did in the famous sequel, and living in a very different world. In the late 80’s the key words of sustainable development were “future generations”. We are in 2016, and the international consensus and bureaucratic paraphernalia concerning environmental issues continues to relay on this unknown, fuzzy future. We keep on addressing those generations that are still to be born, but the reality is that I am –you are- the future contained in the pages of a 1987 report commissioned by the UN and called “Our Common Future”. By then the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had not even been created, James Hansen had not testified in front of the US Senate, and climate change was a matter strictly confined into science journals. But there were some alarms buzzing on the state of the Earth, and an increasing concern for the well being of future generations began to impregnate governmental action and discourse.

Yes, Marty, I’m also surprised we’re already in the future

And like a time capsule that returned from a long, cold orbit around the Sun, predictions have reached us. The future, either you like it or not, is now, as the recent NOAA report acknowledges. Thirty years have passed and here we are, participating on this endless digression about what world will we leave to our grandchildren –while our planet keeps warming and the ice melting. When I was born, climate change did not ring a bell in most scientists, except from palaeoclimatologists, and if I am to become a father, my children will grow breathing air from an atmosphere containing a 15 million year high CO2 concentration. They will not be poisoned –carbon dioxide is harmless-, but if we do not act they will be doomed, which is even worst.

Predictions are not optimistic, despite post-Paris enthusiasm, but for sure there is one thing that will make them worse: delaying climate action due to the feeling that is a problem that can be dealt in the future. My life, and your life, is going to be worse than anyone could have predicted when we were born.


So, what if we abandon the “future generations” paradigm? What if we displace the problem from the mid-term future to this very present? What if we assume we reached the deadline of those still-to-be-born children in 1987 becoming adults? We have only one way to push forward the green discourse and fuel climate action: talking about liveable present. And it is not, by any mean, an act of selfishness –in fact, the only way to guarantee a better future is to build a healthier present.

Let’s talk about a better development for present generations. Let’s assume we are no longer living in a pre-climate change planet, and that climate change is neither a baseline nor a new normal. Climate change is a process, and maybe the conception than was an event occurring sometime in the future –where those coming generations would live- has prevented us from acknowledging the magnitude of the problem and thus taking action.

I do not intend to detract any merits from the concept of sustainability, or the true and legitimate concern about those humans that will live when we are not longer on this planet. Caring about your descendants –even if they do not exist yet- is something uniquely and truly human. But the fact is: you are that descendant. Start caring about yourself. Now.


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