As Texas, Florida and the Southeast U.S., and other parts of the world drowned this late summer of 2017, here in the Western United States we lived through the fire next time. The fires dropped ash here in Seattle, attacked the Columbia River gorge where I grew up and my home town was under evacuation warning, and these were not the biggest of the fires. Are we seeing our environmental future?
Eleven years ago, I assumed so when I was writing my book, Turning the Future into Revenue. In the chapter that addressed the future environment I wrote about fires burning 13 years ago:
I am sitting next to an alpine lake high in the Washington Cascade Mountains. My eldest daughter, age 24, and I have hiked here on a beautiful sunny day in the summer of 2004. Sitting at the highest lake on this hike, however, our view is obscured by smoke from a forest fire, pouring over the crest of the mountains from the East. As we sit on a rock and look at the lake through the smoky haze, I tell my daughter about a science fiction book I am reading, the name of which escapes me these years later. The book is set in a post global-warming world. As it opens parts of the world are so hot that they are simply on fire much of the time, as vast forest and range fires sweep the planet. Intending simply to make conversation, I am surprised when I glance at my daughter and see that she is crying quietly. Seeing my glance, she says, “It just seems so unfair, that my generation will have to live with the mess that yours and those before you have made of the planet.”
We are failing the future. Deny this we may try, but there is little doubt about it. The entire world joins in this failing, but rich and powerful nations like mine, the United States, bear a special responsibility and will be the focus of this final section. Here in this nation we can not only see what is happening, we have the means to do something about it. But we watch and wait and do not act, not to the extent that would serve future generations as well as we serve ourselves.
Ironically, in failing the future, we may also miss out on the most compelling business opportunities of our generation. (2006)
The signs in the U.S. are never good in terms of shifting our political focus to a sustainable future, but this summer may be a sufficient wake up call. Let’s hope so.