What does it mean to be stewards of our planet?

It’s a question that I find that I ask myself often. Having grown up with the privilege of visiting National and State parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and more, my experiences are filled with rich memories that allow me to see the value of protecting areas and environments like them so that future generations might have the same opportunity. I can still picture the first time I got to see the Northern Lights or the nights in the Northwoods where nights were so dark that I could see the starlight reflected off of lakes.

For many people, however, stewarding the planet has become something that is synonymous with exploiting the environment. It has become a secondary concern or, worse, something to ignore entirely in a mad dash to riches. Politicians have also scrambled to take deliberate action against policies that would combat climate change in a bid to appease their voters, parroting conspiracy theories and falsehoods about climate change and the environment.

As a result, our country and our planet teeters on the edge of a cliff. According to NASA, a 1.5 degree celsius warming will mean 14% of global populations will be subject to severe heatwaves at least once every five years. At 2 degrees warming, that jumps more than 20% to 37%. Cold spells will also be shorter, affecting the North and South Poles most dramatically. We’ll also have a myriad of other issues like droughts, extreme storms, massive loss of flora and fauna species, wildfires and much more. In short, climate change may be responsible for the breakdown of society as we know it as we transition into a world filled with greater dangers and fewer resources. 

And those memories I have of Yosemite and the Northwoods will become nothing more than a memory unless we take steps to stop it. However, like anyone who’s tried to break a habit knows, it’s not enough to set a goal or make a resolution. We need to change our mindset and look at the world in a different lense.

The Iroquois, a Native American Nation, had a guiding principle to whatever actions they took. They believed that the decisions made in the present should be made with the idea of ensuring a sustainable future for their descendants seven generations later, approximately 150 years into the future. Every action was made with this seven generation principle in mind, ensuring that future generations would not face a world stripped of resources and security. They acted on the idea that posterity also deserved a world worth living in.

This concept of securing a future for new generations isn’t something new or original; it’s ingrained in every society. However, the idea of looking far enough ahead that we’re not only considering the situation of our children and grandchildren is something that we almost never consider. We’re fixated on the immediate: the immediate present, the immediate past, the immediate future. In doing so, we lose track of the greater picture, the effects of our decision on our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

I wonder: would it have made any difference on today’s society and environment if our ancestors had the foresight to ask themselves what the consequences of their actions would be on a group of people 150 years into their future? Would it have meant less deforestation, less pollution, more protective regulation, less inequality and more opportunities for all?

It’s not something that can or will ever be answered. But while we may not have an answer to that, we can make sure that we have an answer to the next 150 years.