Over the holidays, a gracious lady from Tonga shared with me the story of Tu’i Malila, the “Little King.” This Madagascar radiated tortoise was presented as a gift to the King of Tonga by Captain Cook in 1777 and he lived until the age of 188, dying in the mid-1960s. This tortoise had bridged the human eras of sea exploration and space exploration. I wondered if Captain Cook had any inkling how long his gift would endure and how much the world would change over that time.
I’ve been reflecting on how the choices we make each day about climate change represent our gift – or our burden – to future generations. They don’t have a say in what they will inherit from us, they can’t vote for today’s visionary leaders and they can’t remind us to change our habits. The collective impact of what we emit now will extend well beyond the typical climate change modelling threshold of 2100, which lies within the lifetime of today’s children.
It can be harder to want to reduce our emissions today when we personally face the costs but not the climate consequences of our choices. As a thought experiment, would we behave differently today if we expected to reincarnate into the future climate we are creating – and if the “climate karma” we accumulated during this lifetime determined in which climatic zone we lived next? I have to admit that I probably would behave differently, and my heart is not comfortable with my answer. Perhaps the Golden Rule that has evolved across cultures and faiths can be extended: “Emit unto others as you would have them emit unto you.”
I am a huge fan of living in the present. Doing anything more becomes overwhelming. But I also want to maintain awareness of my long-term impact so that my present constitutes a worthy present – my gift – to future generations. My goal for this year is to live as if climate karma counts!
For personal inspiration, I am turning to Kālidasā, an Indian poet who wrote in the fifth century.
Look to this day: for it is life, the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of existence. The bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendour of achievement are but experiences of time.
For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision; and today well-lived, makes yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well therefore to this day; such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!
Happy new year!