Dear Ashley Mae,
Hey kiddo. This letter has been a long time coming.
When I started writing it, you looked like this:
Today, you look like this:
It’s taken me so long to find the right words to say because I’ve been searching for the right actions to take. You see, around the time you were born, a friend asked me to write to the Letters to the Future project in support of the Paris Climate Accord.
I thought it would be quick and easy. After all, I was finishing up a grad program in environmental policy; I knew a thing or two about climate change. But every time I sat down to write, a deluge of worry spilled onto the page. I had all this information about the harm carbon pollution is causing to people and our planet. I looked to the future and mapped climate risks against your lifetime; I gotta tell you, kid, if we do nothing the world you will inherit looks pretty bleak. Droughts and storms, freshwater shortages, rising food costs, massive migration and displacement; all factors we know lead to conflict and human suffering. Despite these tremendous risks, for decades the global community — and the United States especially — has failed to take meaningful action to reduce carbon pollution. Your generation will bear the burden of our hesitation.
Along with the worry came sorrow. I’ve had the joy and privilege of witnessing some small part of our planet’s astounding wilderness and biodiversity. I’ve dived vibrant coral reefs, camped atop glaciers and trekked through rainforests on three continents. Yet I’ve also seen how quickly these places and the species they contain are disappearing. It breaks my heart to think that our collective impact on the biosphere may deprive you of what should be your natural birthright — a living planet full of wonder and possibility.
But here’s where I really got stuck: the project’s organizers asked letter writers to detail the actions they pledged to take today to ensure climate justice for future generations. The actions I put down were so wholly inadequate to the scale of the problem it was comical: I ride my bike. I eat (and sometimes grow) organic veggies. I turn off the lights and turn down the heat. I vote and write my elected representatives to demand action. More than anything, I wanted to say that I was doing everything I could to protect your future. But I knew it wasn’t true. No one person can solve this problem through individual action. We must act collectively. We must change the systems that perpetuate our reliance on fossil fuels. We must invest in and build up clean and sustainable alternatives. There’s no time left to wait; we must start now.
It’s taken me two years, but today I can say with conviction that I am doing everything I possibly can to fight for climate justice. I can say that because I am not doing it alone.
Here in Washington state, I have joined an historic movement of over 400 groups and thousands of people from all walks of life to pass a measure that goes straight to the source of our pollution problem. By passing Initiative 1631, we will achieve what Nobel prize winning economists tell us we need: a price on pollution and investment in clean energy.
The people who have come together to craft Initiative 1631 are smart and tireless advocates for the health of Washington communities and our environment. In a thoughtful and inclusive process, grounded in evidence of what we know to be most effective, they’ve come up with a practical first step to clean our air, make clean energy affordable and accessible, and invest in those communities most impacted by pollution.
I am honored to be a messenger for their work. Every day I am focused on helping Washington voters celebrate this opportunity to vote yes for a thriving clean energy economy, to vote yes for climate justice and to vote yes to protect our state’s lands, waters and wildlife. Every day I think about what our success could mean for your future. Passing Initiative 1631 will be the first step, not the last. But maybe it will also be the first domino. That’s clearly what big oil companies think; they’ve spent over $25 million to fight this initiative. After all, by voting yes Washington voters can show the nation and the world that it is possible to put a price on carbon at the ballot box.
Every day I grow more hopeful and that will be true whether or not we win this election. Ecosystems are resilient, if given half a chance. People are pretty resilient too. I truly think we’ll emerge on the other side of this crisis stronger than we are today. We’ll know so much more about the earth. We’ll have grown closer as a global community. We’ll be more compassionate and more humble. The changes we make to reduce pollution and mitigate climate impacts will have huge follow-on benefits: less expensive energy, revitalized local economies, cleaner air and water, healthier soils, enhanced wildlife habitat, safer and more active transportation options, better urban quality of life, more tightly-knit social support networks, improved mental health — not to mention the protection of ways of life that stretch back untold generations. It won’t be quick or easy, but the right response today can create opportunities for young people rather than restricting their horizons.
This future is achievable. Working with so many inspiring volunteers and partners who share this vision has helped me remember that I am not alone.
And neither are you. I love you to bits, kiddo. I hope you grow up strong and fearless. And I hope you know how ferociously we fought for you.