René Olivieri's Letter

Dear Future Generation,

We haven’t met, at least not yet, but I am very conscious of your imminent arrival. And believe it or not, I think I know what you want from me and my generation. You will thank us, I hope, for our scientific and technological advances. You will admire and enjoy our cultural achievements and feel a connection to us through our shared history. But, unless we get our act together pretty quickly, you will also chastise us for our profligate consumption of resources, for our ruthless depletion of the natural world.
One of the many cultural treasures we have bequeathed to you can be found in Hereford Cathedral, home to perhaps the most beautiful, and unquestionably the largest, of all medieval maps of the world, the Mappa Mundi. Embellished with both real and mythical creatures, it shows the world as cartographers imagined it more than 800 years ago. Not surprisingly, Europe and the Middle East occupy most of the vellum: much of the earth was still undiscovered by continental Europeans of the time. They didn’t know what they didn’t know.
Scientists today estimate there are something like ten million species of plants and animals on this planet. We may have identified only a fraction of these so far. But at least we have some notion of what we don’t know. And may never know. Species which took millions of years to evolve are being lost, irrecoverably and at an accelerating rate, without us ever having recognized them. Climate change and habitat destruction are the proximate causes of this destruction; short-term thinking and tunnel vision are the underlying causes. Those who lived a hundred years ago might be excused on ground of ignorance; the current generation has no such excuse.
Unfortunately, that’s where we stand as I write to you today. But don’t despair! All is not lost. Indeed, there are grounds for hope.. More people than ever before now understand just how dependent we are on the natural world and what we can do to put things right. In greater numbers than ever before, they are standing up for nature and for future generations. They appreciate there is no trade-off between the interests of present and future generations—our interests are aligned
There is a lot of talk around these days about environmental tipping points, and rightly so, but the most important tipping point for me is public opinion and I feel the balance is shifting! I’m thinking of you and look forward to writing again soon with good news.

René Olivieri – Chair of the National Trust

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