Letter from the Future – Presented to the Eco-Change Exchange June 25, 2009


Note: Just this morning we received this email dated June 25, 2109 signed by the Mayor of Austin. Austin is the premier sustainable American city! This email from the future is in appreciation for all the work you do for the people of today and tomorrow.

Dear Citizens of 2009,

Today we held a celebration in your honor. We call you our Sustainers, our elders, who began the revolution of thought and actions that make our life here in 2109 possible. We thank you for having the vision that brought sustainability, peace and justice to our world.

Here’s the tribute we read to you today in town squares around the world. We gather to tell your story every year on Sustainability Day, so that we keep building on your work and never turn back. Thank you for keeping to your vision and life saving work.


You, our elders, walked the planet before the cities were re-greened, when the streets were still unsafe and when people choked on pollution. You helped to reclaim waste spaces, build up topsoil, and plant trees. You harnessed solar energy in your homes and businesses and phased out the polluting machines powered by coal, oil and nuclear reactions.

You lived when people actually tried to control pests by spraying poisons over the whole countryside. You helped pioneer the agricultural revolution that produced high yields using elegant, natural controls instead of toxic chemicals.

You lived in the times when people tossed away mountains of paper, metal and plastic – and then went to great expense to wrest more from the soils and rocks of the earth. You created an ethic of recycling, invented closed-loop, no waste systems and were enriched by investing early in socially and environmentally responsible businesses.

You were the first generation who worked wholeheartedly to assure the sustenance, the health care and the first-class education of every one of your children.

You were the last generation to have experienced what it was like when much of the human race was hungry and desperate, when great areas of the world were poor, oppressed and angry. We are profoundly grateful that we can now travel anywhere and find sufficiency, stability, warmth and welcome.

We heard about your first of many Eco-Change Exchange gatherings, where a diverse coalition of cross-issue thought leaders came together to take a stand for responsible city policies and community actions that sustain life for the planet and all who inhabit this beautiful Earth.

Your themes of Environmental Justice, Renewable Energy, Local & Sustainable Food Economy, Participatory Democracy, Water Stewardship, and Responsible Land Use led to amazing positive change.

We thought you might appreciate a report card of sorts, to anecdotally share the impacts of the work you focused on this night 100 years ago.

* The term that was coined around your time, Zero Waste, has fallen out of favor because we no longer use the word waste. Resource recovery is a thriving industry, and we’ve even begun making headway on harvesting so many of the materials cavalierly placed in landfills during the 20th Century and first part of the 21st Century.

* All residences and businesses have recycling and compost pick-up service, we have numerous successful industries in the region that use these materials as feedstock and provide products and materials valued by many.

* All Austinites have access to safe, nutritious, locally and sustainably-grown food. Austin has hundreds of community gardens and thousands of private-yard food gardens. Thriving organic farms, and other local food businesses, including a permanent Public Food Marketplace proudly feed our residents without polluting our water supply or poisoning our people.

* Thanks to your forethought and conservation efforts, we have sufficient agriculture capacity near to town.

* 75% of the food consumed in Austin comes from Texas and nearly half from Central Texas. We can hardly believe there was a time when only 3% of your food was grown locally! In combination with the decentralized systems for water catchment, filtration and re-use, we have created hundred of attractive water features around town that are fabulous places for our citizens to relax and enjoy nature.

* The soil that has been built from extensive neighborhood and regional composting operations has recovered the fertility of the land. Water absorption capacity is such that flash floods are something we read about in history books.

* Thank you for making it a priority to conserve and protect our precious water resources. It may seem miraculous to you but Barton Springs still flows year-round and the water is clear.

* The massive shift to water conservation measures that you undertook including developing forward-thinking building codes and organizing widespread cooperation between developers and citizens encouraged gray-water re-use, composting toilets, rainwater collection, runoff retention, and green roofs. By the way, the all these efforts meant that Water Treatment Plant 4 didn’t get built until 2020.

* Today, Austin proudly gets 100% of its energy from renewable sources, mostly from Central Texas.

* Your Pecan Street Project led to a reinvention of the grid, not just for Austin but for the world! The sustained economic trend upward that started in 2010 was made possible through the numerous clean energy businesses developed and green collar jobs created.

* The Comprehensive Plan that so many of your citizens collaborated on to produce has led to a number of new compact cities. These are a constellation around Austin and make it possible for people to live, work and recreate within a two mile radius of Austin, with occasional jaunts via the rail to go downtown or ride to the airport for a longer trip.

* Thank you for collaborating with developers so that they took on, as their absolute duty, a commitment to preserve our precious environment while building walkable, transit-oriented housing, work place and recreational facilities for our thriving population of 3 million.

* World class bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure allows thousands of Austinites to get around without cars. Alternative transportation is now widespread. And the new Austin-San Antonio Inter-municipal Rail line makes inter-city travel free of traffic congestion.

* Public transportation is affordable to people of all income levels.

* Your willingness to face and address the major environmental challenges of your time, including drought, global warming, and energy depletion has been an inspiration to people in cities everywhere!

* We thank you for making it possible for us to enjoy clean water and air in ALL parts of our cities and towns, so that the water downstream is as clean and enjoyable as the water upstream, and that the most beautiful parts of our environment are enjoyed by all, instead of being reserved for the most wealthy and privileged. We have a diverse and active urban City core.

* Thanks to your example, we always keep in mind those who have the fewest resources and the least voice, and make sure that we are always providing for all our citizens.

* After the Pure Casting facility was relocated it set the standard for relocating over 400 industrial and commercial operations from East Austin, those sites were developed with compatible and sustainable residential land use practices.

* Austin’s unique natural environment and identity have been preserved in this highly livable city.

* The Sustainability and Restoration Department, that grew from the Sustainability Office, has kept City policy focused on the long-term implications of all decisions.

* Participatory democracy is a way of life. We have fair and transparent government that is accountable to all of us. We know where and how our tax money is spent and that it is spent equitably.

* Everyone who lives in Austin has access to the local government, participating and contributing to decision-making in Austin. And EVERYONE VOTES!

Here in 2109, we love to tell your stories. You lived in pivotal times and steered the course of society in our direction, toward sustainability. You made our lives possible. We are your children and grandchildren and great-great-great grandchildren. We tell your stories so that the citizens of 3009 and 4009 will still be holding their Sustainability Day tributes in our beautiful town squares all around this healthy, thriving world.

Adapted by Brandi Clark (and read by Brandi Clark, Erin Hickok and Carmen Llanes) for the Eco-Change Exchange June 25, 2009 at Austin City Hall, from an adaption by Alisa Gravitz for the Co-op America Green Business Conference, November 3 – 5, 2004, which was adapted from the Donella H. Meadows essay, “The Senior Citizens of 2089,” pages 277 – 278, Global Citizen, Island Press, 1991. The late Dr. Meadows always invited all citizens to add their stories to the vision of the sustainable, joyful future we can create together.

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