Apologies to the Next Generation


I'm truly sorry that my generation is leaving you with such a mess.

Perhaps every generation aspires to pass on to the next a world at least as good as the one it inherited. Growing up in the American Midwest in the 1950s, I was imbued with the cultural belief in Progress, a benign faith that life was generally getting better over time. Moreover I was taught that it is a civic duty-- especially for the privileged-- to promote the welfare of the larger community.

"What does the current generation owe future generations?" That was the core question of the NAPA study I directed in the early 1990s. Is it fair for the current generation to enjoy the benefits of nuclear power while imposing on future generations the costs and risks of nuclear waste, which persist for tens of thousands of years? Will we rise to the systemic challenge of anthropogenic climate change and make the sacrifices necessary to mitigate its worst effects?

The 2016 Presidential race and its outcome felt like a gut punch leaving me breathless.. like a bucket of ice water thrown in my face.. like a good and great friend, America, died.

We've got the DTs, and they are infectious.. a plague that will still be with you kids when you are grown and out on your own. The DTs have corroded civil discourse and respect for truth-telling, undermined precious democratic institutions, and baked corruption into the institution of the Presidency. Social frictions, fanned by fear, heat up, and political fractures appear. Recovery is uncertain. I wish we had done better.

When I graduated from Grinnell College in 1963 , my friends and I cheerfully assumed the wider world was a welcoming place that would offer us a range of good opportunities, and it generally has. Not so today, as I understand; yours is the first generation to face the prospect of a lower standard of living than your parents. Economic inequality has never been greater, and life expectancy is actually going down among working class white men.

Who knows what world will face you when you come of age? In any event, I hope you bring the same sort of enthusiasm and confidence for making your way in the world that we had.


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