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“Stop poisoning the air, water and topsoil” – Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to the future —

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I met Kurt Vonnegut many years ago when my wife and i had gone to a book signing event in Chicago. I do not agree with everything that he says, but i am appreciative of the seven very sagacious terms which he seriously provides below. Will the people of our planet change to substantially improve the health of the earth as a whole? That is not likely (in substantial enough numbers). However, at least some of us are trying. Meanwhile, with the Covid situation improving, oodles of people are once again flying around in polluting jets and are long-distance traveling in fossil fuel vehicles to get vacations that they feel they are owed. The blue sky will be getting smoggy again and the crazy winds will continue to get even crazier.

Letter to the Future, From Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:

“Ladies & Gentlemen of A.D. 2088:

It has been suggested that you might welcome words of wisdom from the past, and that several of us in the twentieth century should send you some. Do you know this advice from Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: ‘This above all: to thine own self be true’? Or what about these instructions from St. John the Divine: ‘Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment has come’? The best advice from my own era for you or for just about anybody anytime, I guess, is a prayer first used by alcoholics who hoped to never take a drink again: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.’

Our century hasn’t been as free with words of wisdom as some others, I think, because we were the first to get reliable information about the human situation: how many of us there were, how much food we could raise or gather, how fast we were reproducing, what made us sick, what made us die, how much damage we were doing to the air and water and topsoil on which most life forms depended, how violent and heartless nature can be, and on and on. Who could wax wise with so much bad news pouring in?

For me, the most paralyzing news was that Nature was no conservationist. It needed no help from us in taking the planet apart and putting it back together some different way, not necessarily improving it from the viewpoint of living things. It set fire to forests with lightning bolts. It paved vast tracts of arable land with lava, which could no more support life than big-city parking lots. It had in the past sent glaciers down from the North Pole to grind up major portions of Asia, Europe, and North America. Nor was there any reason to think that it wouldn’t do that again someday. At this very moment it is turning African farms to deserts, and can be expected to heave up tidal waves or shower down white-hot boulders from outer space at any time. It has not only exterminated exquisitely evolved species in a twinkling, but drained oceans and drowned continents as well. If people think Nature is their friend, then they sure don’t need an enemy.

Yes, and as you people a hundred years from now must know full well, and as your grandchildren will know even better: Nature is ruthless when it comes to matching the quantity of life in any given place at any given time to the quantity of nourishment available. So what have you and Nature done about overpopulation? Back here in 1988, we were seeing ourselves as a new sort of glacier, warm-blooded and clever, unstoppable, about to gobble up everything and then make love—and then double in size again.

On second thought, I am not sure I could bear to hear what you and Nature may have done about too many people for too small a food supply.

And here is a crazy idea I would like to try on you: Is it possible that we aimed rockets with hydrogen bomb warheads at each other, all set to go, in order to take our minds off the deeper problem—how cruelly Nature can be expected to treat us, Nature being Nature, in the by-and-by?

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on—during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature’s stern but reasonable surrender terms:

  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you’re at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.

Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now? Maybe I have spent too much time with scientists and not enough time with speechwriters for politicians. For all I know, even bag ladies and bag gentlemen will have their own personal helicopters or rocket belts in A.D. 2088. Nobody will have to leave home to go to work or school, or even stop watching television. Everybody will sit around all day punching the keys of computer terminals connected to everything there is, and sip orange drink through straws like the astronauts.

Cheers,

Kurt Vonnegut”

Fragile, Yes … Photo by Thomas Peace c. 2021

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My Blog primarily consists of close-up nature photos (that I've taken locally) combined with original holistic-truth oriented prose and/or poetry involving mindfulness/awareness. I love nature and I love understanding the whole (not merely the parts and the details). I'm a retired teacher of the multiply handicapped. I have a number of interesting hobbies, such as fossil collecting, sport-kite flying, 3D and 2D close-up photography, holography, and pets. Most of all, I am into holistic self-awareness, spontaneous insight, unconventional observation/direct perception, mindfulness, meditation, world peace, non-fragmentation, population control, vegetarianism, and green energy. To follow my unique Blog of "Nature Photos and Mindfulness Sayings" and for RSS feeds to my new posts, please access at: tom8pie.com (On my regular Blog posting pages, for additional information and to follow, simply click on the "tack icon" at the upper right corner... or, on my profile page, you can click on the "Thomas Peace" icon.) Stay mindful, understanding, and caring!...

31 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership.

    With a third of the century since already gone, not only does it seem that we’re not learning this lesson, but we appear to be selecting for, rather than against, those attributes :/

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  2. Oil companies knew decades ago – like 1940s that fossil fuels were incredibly bad for the environment. Of course, all that matter in the grand scheme of things if the dollars and how many of those can be accrued no matter the cost.

    Sometimes it is incredibly hard to be optimistic. People want to return to “normal” i.e. life pre-pandemic. I shudder to think what life there will be for future generations.

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      • With the vaccines rolling out people seem to think it’s all over with, but until developing countries are also able to vaccinate their population the virus will continue to mutate and possibly become resistant to present vaccines. It’s just one more example of people not recognizing the dangers that face our planet. I really don’t understand people sometimes. The recklessness with which we ignore perils is beyond my comprehension.

  3. What is “normal” life as it changes with each generation. There is nothing left that resembles the life I knew when I was a kid. That is how it will be generation by generation as their lives to them will be “normal”.

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  4. Good food for continued thoughts … every little gasp/grasp helps. Thanks.
    And gorgeous image – both petaled-one and winged-one fragile, temporary, essential

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  5. Good post, Tom. Many days it’s hard to feel optimistic with the array of problems on so many fronts, and the amazing ways they remain unaddressed or inappropriately addressed. Rediscovering our compassion is key to solutions.

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  6. Yes, Nancy, rediscovering our compassion is key. And compassion is not merely ours like we own it or have it. It is either what we are or it isn’t. Schools need to not just place so much emphasis on the 3 Rs; they need to go into and delve into compassion and such. Too many teachers are fragmentary and are not (really) doing a whole lot of true good.

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  7. WOW, what a dynamic, thought-provoking commentary Tom. 🤔 Where do we start? Some of us have been yelling about the abuse we plow on nature and the planet, but truly nothing seems to be making an impact towards improvement.

    As extreme as this may sound, it is all too eerily true. I mean, look at what we are personally doing and what others are pretending to do, and what others just adamantly refuse to do. We are in some serious trouble. It won’t be survival of the fittest, because there will be nothing fit to survive! 😥

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  8. Pingback: “Stop poisoning the air, water and topsoil” – Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to the future — – Site Title

  9. I’ve never read anything by Vonnegut, but these words give us food for thought don’t they. You and your followers are already mindful of what is going on with our Earth and its inhabitants, the perils and pitfalls, some things beyond change/repair, but most people are blind to it. One day they’ll get it. I like the visitor on the Tiger Lily. Thank you for that splash of color in my evening reading of mostly words and a smattering of pictures.

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    • Thanks, Linda! 🙂 I think i may be ending with blogging perhaps, at least for the most part. I do not see enough people fundamentally changing. For instance, a person who follows my blog was recently writing about mindfulness (in her blog) as if it were something that one could decide to do (and practice), which is so ludicrous. Anyway, I may be doing more with volunteer work, at a local hospital perhaps. I’ll see how it goes.

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      • I know you said you might like to return to volunteer work after you were fully vaccinated and the pandemic cases slowed down a little. It is discouraging sometimes to see how people interpret something like mindfulness. We have yoga classes in the new Riverfront Gateway at Humbug Marsh … the purpose advertised to practice mindfulness. It’s not a “thing” but people don’t understand it. I hope you won’t shut down your blog completely Tom.

      • Thanks, Linda. I’m not sure, at this point, about whether i’ll shut the blog down completely. Right now, i feel that maybe offering someone a warmed blanket in a hospital, or pushing a wheelchair to an outside vehicle, may be more impactful and meaningful. You are welcome to correspond with me via email if you’d like. 🙂

      • You’re welcome Tom. Maybe just use your blog to focus on your macro photography for a while while you pursue your volunteering endeavors, then perhaps the tenor of this current society will change, (for the better), people will slow down and be a little more introspective. Silly me thought that people, having gone through this pandemic, would have changed and become better people, but I think it was transient and people are back to their own ways. I hear folks clamoring to get away, get out of the house, get back to a “real life” again and I think they learned nothing in the end. Maybe I don’t “get” it as I live a pretty simple existence. I have your e-mail address and will do so if you fade away in this forum. Take care.

      • Yes, Linda, things are getting worse and not better (for the most part); violence is way up, prejudice is not changing, and there are major droughts and heat waves covering a wide portion of the country (and world). A big change in people is not likely to happen for the better, but we can always hope that that occurs.

  10. Hello Tom, Kurt Vonnegut’s words are pertinent. Very.
    It is difficult for me to articulate my feelings here, and it is ‘feelings’ that need to be felt in order for the human race to change.

    Education is paramount. But as far as adults are concerned, the likes of Vonnegut are preaching to the conformed. The abusers are not reached, because they don’t care. They hear, but do not comprehend. We can shake a person till they fall apart, but they will not change until they are ready for change. (Same in personal relationships etc, we can’t ‘fix’ people by demanding or harping).

    My view is that positivity and example will reach more people who NEED to comprehend their impact on our planet home and the universe that sustains us. I see change happening. It is subtle, but it is there, and it is spreading, and I believe it has a lot to do with kindness.

    We are all connected to each other, here or far away, by invisible threads of energy. Thoughts, words, deeds, are affecting the energy everywhere. It’s like a ripple effect.

    It is the core (soul) of people that needs to evolve, and this will not happen until that soul has experienced the lessons that it is meant to receive. It is people that matter, because it is people who will make or break humanity inhabiting this planet.

    Children are our future. Teach the children, and they will change the way humanity lives.

    Regarding your views, Tom, on renewed air travel and long distance land travel: again, difficult to express my view here. But, in the scheme of things, a plane trip now, is just as important to those who take it, as it was to you going to Chicago in years ago.

    And the caravanning trip that my husband and I had to South Australia just returned from, is as important to us (and all the businesses that we supported), as it was for someone else years ago.

    Do you see what I mean? We can’t compartmentalise our needs or wants as of less value now than those of someone else in the past. I might have filled our vehicle with fossil fuel a dozen times, but I spent money in outback places that are struggling, I gave kindness to those I met, I lived with regard to the environment all that time (except for the fuel I used). I’m not saying that one environmentally sound practice counteracts using fossil fuel, but I am saying that it is a bigger picture, and there are more ways to skin a cat 🙂

    As always, I have enjoyed your post. Thank you 🙂

    Regards, Gaye Drady

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  11. Thanks about seeing Vonnegut’s words as pertinent, Gaye.
    Please don’t compare a jet plane trip to our trip to Chicago in the past. We took public train transportation back then, and those scheduled train departures leave from south of Chicago (where we live) whether or not many or a few people are using them. The environmental impact was truly nil. I don’t buy your rationalization about a jet trip to Australia. With that kind of rationalization, people will just continue to fly in jet planes — which pollute like all hell — all over and make excuses (while the air purity goes crap).

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  12. Tom, I am truly sorry if I have offended you with my opinions, it was only my intention to offer rationality. I was not aware that you were living in the US at the time of your visit to Chigago, thinking that you were in Australia. I do apologise sincerely.

    It’s just, what do people do? Put their travel dreams aside completely? You talk about the long land trips by people who feel they are “owed” them. I am not owed anything by anyone or any system. If I do not follow my dreams to enjoy nature around Australia in my retirement, what then do I do with my retirement? What are dreams worth?

    If we (individuals) live our lives regarding the environment and future as sensitively as possible in all areas that they are able (as I do), then is that not enough? If we live by example, is that not enough?

    I am aware that fossil fuels pollute the air, and I’ve never had any intention of overseas travel, but I also do not judge those who wish to do so ON AN IRREGULAR BASIS. The hundreds of thousands of people who used to travel overseas for meetings and such for business, however, should be ashamed of their decisions to do so, and where possible continue to do whatever sufficed during the pandemic.

    Expressing our ‘truth’ is difficult.

    Regards, Gaye Drady

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  13. Thanks, Gaye. No, i live right here in the so called United States (south of Chicago). I am difinitely not going to tell you what to do. We are all guilty of environmental abuse to some extent. I will, though, say that (for the most part) pleasure is not love. If we really love nature, we “stay put” more and learn to be appreciative of what is right here in our own backyards. It’s as simple as that. 🙂

    Reply

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