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Living with our Legacies

July 2, 2008

Humanity has long been preoccupied with leaving behind a legacy for future generations.  Some money for our kids.  A new arena for the community to enjoy.  A monument to extol past glories.  People work hard to ensure that their generation is remembered by the generations still to come.  To leave behind a better world than the one they found.  Unfortunately, the most lasting of legacies do just the opposite.

Canada has more than its fair share of legacies that would have been much better left behind:

  • The Post-War generation is leaving behind a legacy of urban sprawl that municipal governments and frustrated commuters will be forced to reckon with for decades to come.
  • The nuclear industry is leaving behind a special kind of legacy.  A legacy whose consequences may arise tomorrow or may not arise for thousands of years – but they will arise.  It’s called nuclear waste, and it is guaranteed to remain dangerously radioactive for 10,000 years.  A length of time so vast and unfathomable that it is known as the “Forever Problem“.
  • Perhaps the greatest legacy we will leave behind, however, will be that of a changing climate.  Time will be the judge of how this legacy unfolds, but the greenhouse gas monument to the glories of the industrial revolution has already been carved into the atmosphere.

Maybe the time for legacies has passed.  Maybe the best gift we can leave to future generations is a world much like the one we were brought into.  Maybe Canada’s legacy to the world should be to show how you can address past wrongs, and leave options open for the next generation to make their own choices.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. adamfritz permalink*
    July 3, 2008 2:34 am

    I should probably apologize for pointing out some of Canada’s flaws on Canada Day. And I live in Ottawa! I should know better.

    But as you said, counterpoints do bring out interesting dynamics. Maybe that’s what makes Canada so great a country (and it is pretty damn good when compared to others): no matter our successes, Canadians will never feel that we’ve done enough. Shouldn’t we have done better on climate change? Can’t we make a difference in Zimbabwe? Why are there still children growing up hungry?

    We want to be there for all our friends and neighbours. We want to be the stereotypical Canadian do-gooder who refuses to take any of the glory. We want to be the best without seeming cocky about it.

    The funny thing is that from many perspectives we pretty much are the best, and everyone realizes it but us. We have come out on (or near the) top in the game of grow your economy, increase your quality of life, and don’t make anyone want to invade you. But, being a Canadian, I have to say that it is not enough.

    Unfortunately, this game has been played on credit from the planet’s ecosystems, and they are looking to cash in on their debts. Humanity will continue to play the game of life, but the time has come to make up some new rules that rely on resources that renew themselves every so often. Hopefully all our true-Canadian soul searching will be just the thing to think these new rules up.

  2. reneethewriter permalink
    July 2, 2008 5:12 pm

    Hi Adam,

    I found your post quite moving, especially this line,
    “Maybe the best gift we can leave to future generations is a world much like the one we were brought into”…

    I’ve just written a new post re “what i did on Canada Day” and i’ve linked some of my reflections back to your post…

    I see a dynamic and interesting symmetry between your reflections on Canada’s “problem legacies” and my “immigrant citizen” impulse to give thanks, even in the midst of these “forever problems” –

    do let me know what you think…

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