A letter to my son about climate change:
A transition of the magnitude that is needed is possible
March 11, 2016
I had such a great time hanging out with you at the zoo yesterday. Together, we walked around the zoo searching for the peacocks. We then fed the sheep, watched the baboons and went to see the sea lion show with your class. We had our first picnic lunch in 2016. Sitting there on the grass talking to your teachers and the other parents, I felt really fortunate that I could take the day off and spend it with you.
With the sun beaming down on us, it felt like the perfect day to be outside. Earlier in the day, I had noticed that it was one of those first days of spring when people seem to pour out of their apartments into the streets. There were lots of people outside heading to where they needed to go or just sitting on their stoops in front of their building. Seeing so many people outdoors reminded me that the days are getting longer and we will be able to spend more time outside in the days and months ahead. It was a gorgeous day.
I was also hyper aware that this weather was unseasonably warm and I had to remind myself that is not yet spring; it was still the beginning of March. This was the third consecutive day in March where temperatures reached over 70 degrees. Following the hottest months of January and February ever recorded and the hottest year on record, I couldn’t help but to think about climate change. With fifteen of the sixteen of the hottest years on record having occurred since 2000, this is more than just El Niño at play.
The sobering reality is that our climate is already changing. Our current temperatures have increased 1 degree Celsius already, sea levels have risen 8 inches globally, and the concentration of CO2 levels in the atmosphere has passed 400ppm, up from 280ppm before the industrial revolution.
Facts about temperature and climate change are fresh in my mind because I spent the last several weeks preparing to teach a session on climate science. Doing this work, I often become so absorbed in the material that it becomes commonplace. I don’t always have the chance to stop and think about what these changes really mean. It was only in the five or ten minutes between when I finished working and when you got home that I could feel the tremendous weight of what these warning signs mean for you.
In the easiest, simplest way that I can explain: we are putting people today, and your future, at tremendous risk. We are seeing and will continue to see rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and increased droughts, storms and floods. All of this threatens people, livelihoods and communities. We are creating the conditions for a more insecure and destabilized world.
I can see so clearly now that this is the most difficult and pressing challenge that exists today, and possibly that human society has ever faced.
The good news is that as I learn more, I can now see that the solutions are there, that a transition of the magnitude that is needed, is possible. I don’t think I would have been able to confidently say this 10 years ago when I started working on climate change, or even 3 years ago. But with the technology that currently exists today, we can make this transition.
When I think about my own role in this challenge, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from one of last year’s DearTomorrow letters. MJ Coren so vividly wrote: “The ledge is crumbling. And those of us who stare down into the abyss wonder how will we ever get people to step back.”
I am one of the people staring down into the abyss. But with everything that I have learned about the solutions, I can also imagine that across the way there is another ledge facing us. To me, the abyss looks more like a deep, narrow gorge, a ravine. This new ground is a place where we have not been, a new world powered by renewable energy. If we can just get over to the other side, we can get onto more stable ground. We just need enough people to step back and build enough momentum to jump forward to this new place.
The DearTomorrow project is a small piece is trying to get people to take a step back, to reflect about what climate change means and to imagine what the world on the other side looks like. This is my small part of the solution. I am doing this for you.
With much love,
This is my fourth letter to my son Gabriel as part of my new start-up project DearTomorrow.
DearTomorrow is collecting letters, stories and photos about climate change and preserving them for future generations. Write your own message about climate change to a loved one living in the future. Submit your story to deartomorrow.org