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September 21, 2017

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Graduation speech for NTU Class of 2099

Good morning, NTU Class of 2099, I can't be here in person to address you, since I passed into oblivion long ago. But as a member of the graduating class of 1971 at my own beloved alma mater in Boston, I wanted to leave you with a brief message — from the past to the future — about global warming and climate change as it impacts Taiwan and the rest of the world as well.

As the class of 2099, you are about to enter the 22nd century in a few more months, and you will bring with you not only your university experience here at NTU, but also your career expectations and personal anxieties as citizens living on a planet in the midst of a climate crisis. I'm sure you've heard this term a lot in the past four years — "climate crisis" — but you should know that in my days as a student in America, we never used the phrase. Back then, we had not even heard of the term yet!

Instead, we were focused on terms such as Cold War, nuclear winter, war on poverty, racism, the oil shock, the Middle East situation, and later on, towards of our "three score and ten" on Earth, newer terms such as 9-11, terrorism and global warming.

I'm not around now, but I hope you can read my message online somewhere or perhaps view it on a digital recording in your college library. May all your dreams come true, and then some! Long live Taiwan!

Members of the Class of 2099, you are living in a very crucial time in the history of humankind. Your world stands at the threshold of a period of human history when very important decisions will have to be made about the use of fossil fuels and the "consume!-slash!-burn!" lifestyle that you have come to expect here in Taiwan.

I wonder: Do the names James Lovelock or Al Gore still ring a bell in your generation now, or have new faces and names replaced them? Is the DVD of that documentary from 2006, "An Inconvenient Truth," still in circulation at NTU? And what about Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary entitled "The 11th Hour"? Have you ever heard of the DVD, or has it been all but forgotten in your day and age?

Class of 2099, I want to leave you with seven words: "We must tighten the noose around coal."

Dr. Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University in the U.S. wrote those words in 1989, more than 100 years ago, and they were prophetic. Has your world tightened the noose around coal and other fossil fuels? Has your world started to tackle the vexing problems of overpopulation, climate change and the creation of a sustainable economy? Is global warming something that will shape your future, or are the denialists out there still complaining that it is a hoax?

Whatever your own personal views are about global warming, pro or con, you should know this: There is not much time left. I hope your generation here in Taiwan finds a way to stop the burning of fossil fuels and also finds ways to mitigate the impact of climate change on your future world. I just said that "there is not much time left." Maybe I should have said "time is running out." Or maybe I should have said: "Time has run out."

Class of 2099, go out and help create your world. Good luck and God bless!

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