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forget what all the effort is for. We often tell such people that they should
stop living for the future and enjoy the present. No doubt we are giving
them good advice. But we should not assume that it is truly possible to
live only for the present. Even the most dedicated contrarian, one who
rejects a job and ignores her friends, will still turn off the water after tak-
ing a shower, knowing it would be nice not to flood the bathroom. Our
practical actions constantly speak of our knowledge that the next hour
and next day will come, even if at times and for specific purposes we
might not wish to emphasize that fact.
But what happens when, in reviewing the narratives of our lives, look-
ing ahead to the futures we hope to have, we realize that climate change
will damage our world in ways that will directly and permanently affect
us? What happens to our orientation to the future when its livability is
cast into doubt and begins to dissolve? What if the place we choose for
our abode becomes unlivable, the profession for which we have been
trained is no longer needed, or the income we hoped would support us
threatens to disappear? What if we realize that the life we wanted to lead
is ecologically outrageous, that the children we've been raising have no
chance to live as well as we have, and that the political causes for which
we've been fighting may never succeed?
The answer, I think, is clear: all our practical activities, our human
relationships, our professions and goals, are harmed in their very sub-
stance. The value of our ordinary activities begins to fray, and the entire
framework of our lives becomes suspect. Climate change does not just
melt the ice caps and glaciers; it melts the narrative in which we still par-
ticipate, the purpose of the present day. In this sense, too, we are already
living in the ruins of the future. 106
Climate change devastates the future and the present alike. But that is
not all. Most of us hope to transmit to new generations something of the
values, achievements, and joys we inherited from our forebears. When
our future is cast into doubt, so also is the transmission of that past. In
much the same way, the memory of our own pasts, which we may still
regard as strongly continuous with our present, shifts more emphatically
into the past tense, as if it now speaks clearly of something that is gone.
At certain moments, perhaps, we might almost sense that our very pres-
ent should be rendered in the past tenseā€”as if, like those on board the
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