Today is my birthday, and I’m sitting on a plane writing this entry. Yes, I’m busily contributing to the emissions problem, but this trip is well justified (trust me). And no, this entry will not be about carbon offsets or green travel. Instead it’s related to the birthday thing; I’ve been thinking about time. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about many of the things that I’ve seen so far in my life, compared to what my parents and grand-parents saw. I’m typing this little entry on my little laptop, certainly a device unknown to my parents at this age, but one that I would be reluctant to give up. But it’s shocking and saddening to recall stories that I was told of things that I am unlikely ever to see. My grandfather talked about manatees in Jamaica during his youth. I lived a good deal of my own childhood in Jamaica, but saw my first manatee only years later in Florida (I wonder how long they’ll last there?). My father, who was from Trinidad, would tell stories of the sky being clouded for days by thousands of birds on their annual migrations. I spent the other part of my youth in Trinidad; I never saw those migrations. My mother, Jamaican, now lives in Florida. She witnessed some of the great hurricanes that hit Jamaica in the mid-20th century, but cannot remember storm seasons ever as active or vicious as those of the past three years. I remember healthy coral reefs in the Caribbean. I also remember becoming aware of environmental complexities during the early days of the ozone problem (we solved that!). Twenty years ago I lived about 8 miles from the edge of the Florida Everglades. That same house is now about 15 miles from the new edge.
Two questions really bother me these days, so much so that I spend a good deal of my research time on them. First, are things really changing? Are the recent dry winters, warmer summers, the bleaching corals, the droughts, really the early heralds of a changing planet? How can we understand the time scales of environmental and ecological change? Second, which stories of lost stories will my daughter recall when she reaches this birthday? Well, whatever the answer, I hope that her trips are a little bit greener.