Hindsight is 2020

by Franke James

June 2007
To My Future Grandkids in 2020

drawing of angry grandchild by franke james

tree with a skeleton under it

when I was a kid Christmas was always white

I see cars dump pollution into the air like it was bottomless sewer

World has 15 years to cut emissions

world ignores dire predictions

will cactus replace evergreens in your garden

will you call us crazy for filling up swimming pools with drinking water

will we buy water like we buy milk now

franke james llustration of daughters conversation

will people flock to canada

people won't be wearing biohazard suits

franke james llustration of birds and conversation with sister

trophy breaking through brick wal

franke james photo of traffic

franke james illustration of feet in mud

franke james illustration of 2020 hindsight

franke james illustration of grandma rocks

franke james illustration of conversation with son

franke james illustration of polluting will be like drunk driving

franke james illustration of money tree

grandma letter sign off

Photographs, illustrations and writing by Franke James, MFA
Letter to my Future Grandkids in 2020 copyright 2007 Franke James

102 Responses: 57 Comments and 45 Tweets

  • Rachelle says:

    AMAZING! I love it Franke.. I have been waiting in anticipation for this.. checking everyday. It was well worth the wait. Such a beautiful message.

  • Moira says:

    Brilliant and moving with fun humor. Thank you for putting words and pictures to something we all feel.

  • James says:

    Beautiful! Thank you for thinking of, and caring for our future…

  • Julie says:

    You’ve done it again, Franke. Right on.

    My big thing is intergenerational equity. Thinking like an ancestor! Why does our generation think we’ve got the right to “have it all” today by taking so much away from future generations? Where did this EuroAmerican, society-wide narcissism come from?

    I’ve been talking to people about bringing back the notions of sin and sacrifice. Out for a walk this morning in a fancy neighbourhood, we saw a house being renovated — with NO insulation. That should be a sin! And the money they would spend to get their home insulated (money they’re sure to recoup later through heating and cooling savings) should be a willing sacrifice.

    So how do we institute ecological sin and sacrifice for the future?

  • Post by Stephen Leahy, Author

    Knowledge does not often inspire action. Feelings like compassion and anger do. Good art generates passion.

    Here’s a relevant excerpt from an article written by an artist in recent issue of SEED magazine:

    The point is that the artists’ view is invaluable precisely because they are not experts and do not have the authority granted by science. They are only as persuasive as their images. As non-experts, though interested and knowledgeable, they stand in for the view of the everyman. This reflects the nature of urban and natural systems. They transcend boundaries; they transcend borders, disciplines, issues, and expertise. With art, the viewer knows that she has a license to interpret, to critically evaluate the work, that her opinion matters.

    Toronto artist Franke James exemplifies this in a series of beautiful and powerful visual essays on environmental topics on her website. Franke has a very personal and thoughtful take which brings home some of the dry and terrible facts of climate change. Highly recommended.

    Also be sure to check out Franke’s timely visual essay that has been featured in newspapers and likely to become a classic: My SUV and Me Say Goodbye

  • Franke James says:

    Many thanks to Stephen Leahy for that wonderful and inspiring review! Stephen is the author of a timely new e-book on the Tar Sands… ‘Oil Stains in the Boreal Forest: The Environmental Cost of Canada’s Oil Sands 2.0’. BTW, the e-book is free.

  • Mary Ann in Toronto says:

    I continue to be amazed at your ability to put into such simple, compelling “language” what needs to be said. Keep up the fabulous work.

  • Mary-Martha says:

    What I have learned is that people do not change the way they do things unless they see how it will touch them personally. Bringing something so big and overwhelming and far off (we think) in the future into the present is very hard to get one’s head around. Franke James makes climate change personal.

    Already there are concerns in southern Alberta about the lack of water to sustain the farming/ranching there. There are predictions that that region will become more deeply a desert and farmers will have to move north to land that will feed and water their animals.

    One of my staff spent the past winter in Australia and was required to save her shower water – the little she could use – to water her father’s garden. And people were being shamed if they had green grass because that meant they had been over watering their lawn.

    I have always been a bit embarrassed about the crop of dandelions on my lawn in a sea of pristine green. But this year I feel it is a badge of honour to have a beautiful yellow meadow outside. The things that we do to ‘control’ the world around us needs to stop so that there will be a world around our grandchildren.

    Margaret will have those grandchildren. But it doesn’t happen till the thirties these days and each time it is a miracle! Let’s make their survival our reason to change! Thanks Franke for continuing to nudge us in that direction!

  • She made it for her unborn grandchildren but I think it is for all of us 2020 hindsight image by franke james

    Franke James is a genius and we have rocks in our heads. I can’t add any more to this because it is perfect.

  • Thanks so much Franke.

    There’s a book published this year by Paul Hawken, “Blessed Unrest”. Your work is part of the “unrest”, and a wonderful contribution to the movement that has no name. Individuals and organizations from around the world are the immune system of the planet, kicked into action by the threat to the survival of the organism (the planet).

    The web-site (Wiser Earth) is being used to create an idea of the magnitude of this immune system. Thousands of organizations, millions of individuals.

    There is great hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable environmental odds.

    You are an inspiration to others to become involved, each of us to become another activated cell in the earth’s immune system.

    Best wishes,
    Sandra Finley

  • My wife and I loved this work you’ve done.

    Thank you!

  • Mary says:

    I really like the concept of global warming being a challenge to our generation. We like challenges and we can be creative and innovative if we pool our resources. I also like the fact that this is a problem that the entire world shares and perhaps it will help to unify us. Wonderful insights and beautifully presented.

  • Sarah S. says:

    I just finished reading your new essay. It’s very inspiring! I love the drawing of the money tree! Sadly, that’s what it always seems to come down to… money!

  • Franke’s Future Grandkids

    franke james drawing of future grandkid

    I must say I was VERY pleased to recently receive an email from our good friend, Franke James – letting me know that her latest visual essay was ready!

    I’ve been eagerly anticipating her latest release, and after reading it, I have to say it was definitely worth the wait! I have loved her previous two works, but I’m quite sure this one is my favourite thus far!

    It is called To My Future Grandkids in 2020, and takes the form of a letter written to her (currently unborn) grandkids in the year 2020.

    It explains her worries and concerns about the state of the world from an environmental perspective, and of course carries with it a very powerful underlying message.

    I found this particular piece a wee bit more sobering that the previous two. There was certainly plenty of Franke’s unique (and endearing) humour woven in, but the overall mood seemed to be more sombre – although it did pick up nicely at the end!

    One thing is for sure, I think EVERYONE should read this!
    So check it out and share it with others!
    Once again here is the link:
    To My Future Grandkids in 2020

    Past Franke James posts on EcoSherpa
    Franke Says Goodbye To Her SUV
    Franke James: Artist, Writer, Environmentalist

  • colleen (in Toronto) says:

    I’m at work and it’s raining outside — which pleases me because the gardens need the water. I’m enjoying my cup of joe and clicking my way through e mails that I have to respond to, it’s a work thing. I click over to my personal account and gaze through the 46 inbox messages…. when my eye catches Franke James … visual essay. I’m excited because we talked awhile back about the new subject and I found the concept of a letter to her future grandchildren in 2020 an interesting point of view.

    Now I need a hankie, because I’m moved to tears. I’m laughing and crying. I’m not “sad” nor do I feel doom. I’m just moved by some amazing art, that emotionally struck a chord. HOW does she keep on doing that?

    I’m calling Robert Redford today (not sure if he’ll accept my call) saying he should contact Franke and beg her to be a part of his Green network.

  • Lindsay (in Toronto) says:

    Love your essay – read it before I went to bed and woke up still thinking about it.

    Thanks for the nudge, Franke. I can’t make the city stop trucking my garbage 800KM to Michigan but I can make sure that my contribution to the trip is as small as possible. I can’t make the federal government adhere to the Kyoto accord, but I can put on a sweater instead of turning the heat up. Every day we all make a hundred little decisions as we make our way in the world. If everyone made each of these decisions with the idea firmly in mind that we must do what we can to leave the best possible planet for our Grandkids, we could do what the governments seem unable to do – turn the tide. ‘Cause if we don’t, our Grandkids are going to be cursing us – and we will deserve it.

  • To My Future Grandkids in 2020.

    Another great visual piece by artist Franke James.

    Her visual essays are always great, and this one in particular impacted me, as this is something I think about quite often…our human legacy to our children and grandchildren in regards to the planet and quality of life in the future, and what I am doing day to day towards that. Denise, Artist, Designer, Mom

  • Taferine says:

    Hi there,

    I like your work and it is great that artists care as well :) keep up the good work!

  • Mother Earth says:

    Franke, my name is Karen aka “Mother Earth” as Derrick Sorles and Michael Snell and many others like to affectionately call me. Derrick dear (my blogging mentor and hero) had told me about you when you first met in Chicago, but today shared your work with me. I was brought to tears literally, humbled, outraged, yet also felt like shouting from the rooftops at what you have put to visual and written form -it’s as if your speaking through my heart and mind. Thank you and I applaud you – please hear my roar!!

    I am a closet creative, author, advocate of wellness in several areas: being green, prevention through nutritional supplementation (hello!!), cooking from scratch, the alternative food market ie: organics, local farming and more!! I earn my living wellness consulting ! I am looking for a voice and finding that I actually have one, yet seeing your work and hearing your voice showed me a style and more creative presence that as Derrick said “would blow me away”! It did.

  • Franke James says:

    Dear Karen (Mother Earth),

    So good to connect with you! That was very kind of Derrick to show you my green essays. Thanks so much for your wonderful and enthusiastic praise. It’s very gratifying to hear that they resonated with Mother Earth! You can’t do better than that!

    ~ Franke

  • Frank F. says:

    Franke, if the role of the artist is to reflect and inspire the society he or she lives in, than you have given a bravura performance. I’m awestruck.

  • Dorothy says:

    Wow, Franke you are sooooo talented. It is wonderful of you to use your art to portray the seriousness of global warming. My grandchildren are already here – 4 1/2 of them. I often wonder what it will be like for them when they grow up. I know the first step to change is talking about it and your art speaks in volumes. Bravo!

  • 7-8 years ago my co-workers were making fun of me and despising me because I said that global warming was happening due to our fuel emissions. My supervisor told me that global warming was political and “beyond the time frame of our hydrologic mission in runoff and flood modeling and forecasting. I worked for NOAA’s National Weather Service North Central River Forecast Center in Chanhassen, MN until they “removed” me from federal service in July, 2005 for continuing to speak out about my climate concerns. I think I can say I tried my best and I continue to try to get people to take global warming seriously. You art is helpful.

  • Eliza Olson says:

    Very thoughtful. I am going to pass it on.

  • Franke,

    Have you ever thought of getting those published into a children’s book? The images are wonderful, and the writing very thoughtful,

    marguerite, from LaMarguerite Green Blog (”The Daily Sins of a Green Girl Wannabe”)

  • Franke James says:

    Marguerite — Thanks you for the wonderful suggestion! So nice to meet a kindred soul. You and I are on the same wavelength — wanting to do the right thing for the environment and yet being conflicted by the status quo! I would love to have my essays published in a picture book, whether for children or adults. I have a start — my ‘Green Winter’ essay is being published in a university textbook this fall by Thomson. If you, or anyone reading this, has any suggestions on publishers I would welcome hearing from them. ~ Franke

  • Roz says:

    The essay is a great foray into all those too human tendencies: denial, confusion, helplessness, good intentions, token efforts, and, struggling to be heard – a cry for action. It’s perfect for one of my students who is writing on the topic of what the average family can do to be green. I’ll share with some interested friends as well.

  • Jeremy Finkelstein says:

    Hi Franke,
    Good one, and you should put the essays into a book. When you do, I want an autographed copy.
    Be good and enjoy the summer,

  • shelby says:

    Jeremy is right you should really make this letter a book. It was AMAZING! I loved it. I bet it would sell more than a brand new Stephen King book in a yearlong competition.

  • Franke James says:

    Thank you for the praise and encouragement! Much appreciated.

  • Guy Dauncey says:

    Editor’s note: Below is an excerpt from author Guy Dauncey’s ‘CHOOSING THE LIGHTNESS OF PLANETARY CHILDHOOD’ reproduced with permission.

    We are the binge generation — the ones who wanted it all.

    We are the last of the innocents who believed that this tiny Earth, floating in the vastness of space, could provide for all our wants, however wild or stupid.

    We wanted the fish — so we took them. At the current rate, almost all of the world’s commercial fish stocks will be gone by 2050.

    We wanted the energy — so we took it. Now we are waking up to the appalling impacts that global climate change will bring.

    We wanted the land — so we cut down the Earth’s forests from the Amazon to Bear Mountain, and turned them into farms and subdivisions, driving out eagles, frogs and plants.

    All over the Earth, the things we have used and discarded lie scattered in landfills.

    We are like two-year olds who have known nothing but the generosity of our parents’ love, whose parents are now saying “Enough.”

    Will we respond with foot-stamping and tantrums, demanding the right go on being the centre of attention, regardless of the distress we are causing to others on the planet?

    Or will we come to our senses, as most two-year olds do, and learn that there is another way of living, beyond shouting and selfishness, where cooperation and respect create a harmony in which all may flourish?

    Read the entire essay.

  • Elisabeth says:

    Oh, my gosh if we could all just ‘look’ ahead. You are not only brilliant…but you are using your ‘talent’…your business to make people pay attention! We need the advertising sector to HELP convey the message….spread the word. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

  • I just came across your website for the first time and this story brought tears of frustration to my eyes and a lump to my throat, because it expressed my own fears so beautifully. Even though (or perhaps because) I work with businesses on environmental issues every day, I find it hard to stay positive sometimes. It seems so overwhelming and i feel so powerless. I’m on a quest to turn that sense of frustration into an ass-kicking message, to find the words and the courage to challenge my corporate clients, to push them beyond what they think is possible, to take them someplace new – and that goes for me too!! thanks for the inspiration!

  • […] Symbols are so powerful. I explained to the students how I was initially stumped as to how to tell the story of Steven Levitt calling me a visionary for worrying about global warming. “Excuse me — I’m a visionary for worrying about global warming??” I wanted to convey that sense of dumbfoundedness, and I think the bloodshot eyeball/globe does that. (The eyeball is from A Green Winter and the sewer grate from Letter to My Future Grandkids in 2020.) […]

  • […] both in expressing her concern and understanding in her colourful and insightful visual essays about climate change but also as a teacher of others in workshops for young artists — Six Tools to Make Climate […]

  • Nikki of Bradenton,FL says:

    Being in Florida, I noticed the climate changing to an extreme. 6 years ago we had a winter, it may have not been traditional like the northern states, but the temp got low for at least a month. We did not have winter this year. It was 50 degrees for 2 nights, and still 75 during the day! I’m scared to death with tears in my eyes with the realization that Florida may not exist when my grandkids are born. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, again thank you!

  • This is beautiful, I’m putting link to this on my space… Thanks :)))

  • Viveka Chauhan says:

    Living in a ‘Third-world’ country like India, where over-population and ‘the quest for development and modernization’ are used as standard excuses for the exessive pollution, I wonder when and where will the line be drawn, before its too late for us and our future generations.
    The excuses are many but there are still people out there ready to inspire and be inspired. I am definately inspired by your simple yet profound ideas. Thankyou!

  • Liz Seymour says:

    I just posted one of your images with a link to your website on my blog

    I have enjoyed tremendously looking through your work!



  • shelley says:

    Love it Franke girl!!! Just can’t wait for the next one. I stay up night after night waiting for you to come to my rescue. Save me from this ever-dying planet we call home! Keep up the good work! And remember, “it aint easy being green”-Kermit

  • Peter Dixon says:

    As a grandparent activist working to bring about changing our policies and attitudes on water and climate change issues, I am impressed how To My Future Grandkids conveys the urgency of the problem and the necessity of action. What I like about this visual essay is that it evokes feelings we often bury and deny what is happening around us. Yet it also brings the message of hope if we do something.

    As a grandparent I cannot express strongly enough that parents and grandparents must actively engage in their community to address climate change and water conservation at the local level. Think globally, act locally. If they do nothing how can they profess to love and protect their children?

    I plead for not only grandparents but for all parents to rise up to the challenge and engage themselves in some form of action to save the environment be it climate change water conservation or some other action. Their children will thank them for it long after they are gone.

  • Vic says:

    And with all of this looming over our heads, people are considering handing over the future to Sarah Palin, a woman who advocates book burning, shooting wildlife from a helicopter, taking the polar bears off the endangered species list, attacking adversaries instead of using diplomacy and the further ruination of life as we know it.

  • Ariah Fine says:

    i dont think your images are showing up properly

  • Franke James says:


    You are right. We’re moving to a new ISP due to the traffic from Digg — and there are some hiccups.

    Thanks for letting me know of this glitch.


  • Ha Ha! Don’t necessarily come to Canada to escape the heat! I live on Vancouver Island and some summers, we FRY!

  • […] 2007, when I was writing To My Future Grandkids in 2020, I cited a headline about the “Arctic ice cap thawing faster than forecast.” Since then […]

  • I think we’ll deal with it, but so much misery is already locked in.
    We will not leave this world a better place :-(

  • Katakanadian says:

    In the 3 years since you first posted this I have become much more pessimistic about whether we will get through this with our humanity intact. Hundreds of thousands of people are already dying every year from climate change and we still blithely ignore it while worrying about whether our next car can go 300km without a fill up.

  • […] grandkids asking me what I did. I don’t want to say, “Nothing.” I don’t want to tell my future grandkids that I sat on my hands and did nothing while emissions kept rising, while the ice caps melted, […]

  • […] for Canada? Wondering what kind of Canada her future grandchildren will live in inspires another, My Future Grandkids 2020. When Franke reads Simon Doonan’s Eccentric Glamour: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You, […]

  • Barbara Falby says:

    …The worst form of pollution there is; ie, the emissions from jet planes. The number of flights per month is in the hundreds of thousands, yet no airplane emissions over water are counted. Furthermore, emissions from military jets are not counted. What kind of hypocrisy is this? I would like to bet that more than half of the world’s most damaging emissions are not even counted. How can we begin to reduce emissions without acknowledging this fact?

    If I ruled the world, all commercial and military airports would be shut down tomorrow – no more aeroplan points, no more Caribbean vacations, no more jet-fueled vacations or business trips. Finally, I would reduce all jobs to 4 days, to solve the unemployment crisis that would result from loss of the tourism, and construction industries. Construction, by the way, is also very damaging because of its high emissions.

  • Don Ross says:

    When enough of us become conscious and combine this with conscience and think of our grandchildren, then nothing will remain the same….the status quo will be dead and the world will be a better place as a result.

  • […] think we were crazy not to have taken action when we had the opportunity. They will judge us very harshly and ask how we could have been so stupid, so selfish and so mean. We are really failing the next […]

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