NWF View: Can You Imagine a Better Future?

Leaving a legacy for our children and wildlife

03-11-2013 // Larry J. Schweiger President & Chief Executive Officer

Larry SchweigerI HAVE A VIVID MEMORY of the triumphant moment on July 20, 1969, when astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon and planted an American flag in the dust. I watched the moon landing on my grandmother’s black-and-white television in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

At one point, Gram turned to me and said, “Sixty-six years ago, up the street in that red brick factory, I watched Samuel Pierpont Langley work on his steam-driven aerodrome to demonstrate the practicability of flight [before the Wright Brothers made their trip], and today I am witnessing a man walking on the moon. Sixty-six years, can you imagine that?”

“No, I can’t,” I answered her. A second time, she asked more insistently, “Can you imagine that?” Again I answered, “No, I can’t.” Then came a long pause, and for the third time she said, “Can you imagine that?” Growing frustrated by her persistent questioning, I replied, “Gram, I cannot imagine the enormous changes you have witnessed in 66 years. I just can’t.”

Grandma Malseed has been gone for many years, but her question still haunts me today. What was my nearly blind grandmother trying to show this college freshman when she asked me to mount on the wings of my imagination and time travel 66 years into the past to appreciate the incredible changes she had experienced?

As my childhood mentor, Gram had a way of causing me to think outside my frame of reference. More than that, she instilled in me the importance of leaving a legacy, to “pay it forward” as we say today. She inspired me to strive to do better and to see farther ahead.

Today, as a grandfather myself of five boys, I have come to better understand my grandmother’s challenging question. I have concluded that much of what threatens the future of wildlife and our society stems not so much from what we know or think we know but from a profound lack of imagination about the years to come. We live in the present, often bouncing from moment to moment with little regard for how our daily actions and decisions affect and shape the future. We also tend to ignore the rich lessons of the past.

Can I mount on wings of my imagination again and fly forward in my mind 66 years to see what is in store for my grandsons? Will it be a world where we have embraced wind, solar and other clean-energy innovations soon enough to end carbon pollution and avoid the worst of the droughts, fires and floods generated by climate change? Will we make the investments at a scale needed to help wildlife transition to a much warmer world? Will it be a world where our kids spend time outdoors and develop a rich understanding of the natural world? Will our children’s children cherish nature and understand how it supports their existence? Will they be better stewards by considering ecological functions in their decisions and be fully equipped to confront the challenges we are sending their way?

Are we willing to let go of what we think we know long enough to step outside of this moment and look both ways? If we do that, our vision will become clear and our purpose sure.

Look forward with me. I believe the National Wildlife Federation has an important role to play to keep the wild alive, to reconnect kids with nature and to stop carbon pollution from altering our climate system more than it already has. As a nation, we must be willing to look into the future and see our options more clearly. We must think boldly and confront the enormous challenges ahead as we work together through the common bond of NWF.

You have a critically important role to play, too. Wildlife needs your continued support as a donor or as a volunteer. You also can consider making a planned gift for the future of wildlife in your will. A bequest gift to NWF will continue to help keep the wild alive long after we both are gone. (To learn more, visit www.nwf.org/legacy or call 1.800.332.4949).

There is a world outside that calls for our immediate attention. As a grandfather, it grieves me that we are leaving a real mess for the generations that will follow us. Together, let’s imagine a better tomorrow where innovation leads us to a safer world for our children’s children. Together, we can inspire everyone to protect wildlife for our children’s future. Can you imagine that?


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