Our Moment on Earth: the Consequences of our Actions
By Jared Crum '11
April 28, 2010

Dear Grandchildren,

I’m writing to you to explain what we did to your planet and why we did it. Let me first tell you what prompts my letter.

This month, a very special event happened. Eyjafjallajokull, an Icelandic volcano, erupted spectacularly. From inside the earth came plumes of ash miles high, fountains of lava and even lightning. Much of the world was mesmerized by these images, as they conveyed to us the awesome power of planet Earth.

Our pause did not last long. After a short delay, the world was back on schedule. We picked ourselves up off the floors of airports and flew onward. We returned to our sales pitches and war councils. There were vacations to spend, meetings to attend and crates to move. Like sharks, we could slow down, but never stop moving, lest we die.

I wish we had taken more time to think about Eyjafjallajokull, for your sake, grandchildren. It reminds us acutely of our place on this planet. We are so small and so insignificant. Despite all our best laid plans and carefully drawn schemes, it was all thrown into barely-controlled chaos by one volcano’s eruption. Without regard for human plans, the volcano kept to its own timetable, forcing rich and poor alike to cope and scramble.

Eyjafjallajokull was so effortless in its exercise of raw power. When we sent NATO fighter jets into the European skies to see if the danger had passed, the planes returned with severely damaged engines. Think of all the hours spent in labs, perfecting those engines, only to have them ravaged by tiny silicate glass particles wafting through the air. Nature doesn’t strategize. It simply acts, and dominates.

We should have noted our impermanence as well. For eons, volcanoes erupted without a human audience, and for eons after we’re gone, they’ll continue to do so. Recognizing the transitory nature of our moment on Earth should prompt a reevaluation of our priorities. We should spend more time with our families, treat our bodies better and feed and clothe all people. With so little time in the world, these things are among the most important.

The important value I didn’t mention above is the focus of my letter to you: our planet’s health. The beauty of Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption stunned me. That beauty should have reminded my generation of our responsibility to care for the only home we have by ensuring its water is clean, its air is fresh and its climate is in balance.

We have not done that. As I write, our climate is changing in frightening and harmful ways. When you read this letter, the disastrous effects of our disregard for the planet will probably be acute. In fact, it may already be too late to reverse the change we started. My most significant legacy to you may be what comes out of the tailpipe when I drive a car.

That’s a shame, especially since events like Eyjafjallajokull serve as potent reminders of how interconnected the world is. When Europe shuttered its airports, flights across the globe were cancelled and international commerce was impeded. This is the world we have made — one where all people are bound to each other. This situation was not our innovation. Nature, and its climate, was an interconnected web long before we were. Events in one place profoundly affect the climate of places far distant.

You might wonder how we let the planet get so damaged. The answer is complex. On one level, it was a product of our culture. We were individualists, and with that mindset, caring about a web of life and interdependence was very hard. On another level, it was bad incentivizing. Dumping waste in rivers and selling gas guzzlers was profitable. We made doing the right thing seem anti-business. Little did we know how dangerous this short-term thinking was.

I hope things improve for you. I hope when you read this letter, the planet is returning to balance. I hope more events like Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption remind my generation of our meekness, our impermanence, our interconnectedness and our responsibility. We don’t have much time, so we should make the most of what we have.

Most of all, grandchildren, please do two things: forgive us, and do better. I apologize for what happened. If no one else apologizes, I hope mine is enough. And please note where we went wrong and how we tried to make it right. That way, you’ll never have to write a letter like this.

Now go find your own Icelandic volcanoes and make for yourselves a better world.

With love,


Issue 24, Submitted 2010-04-28 02:14:23