To my grandchildren,
I’m sorry I will never be able to show you the Great Barrier Reef in all its kaleidoscopic glory through the lens of a dive mask and a snorkel. I’m sorry I won’t get to help you cradle the freshly-lain egg of a leatherback sea turtle in your tadpole hands on a beach at midnight.
I’m sorry that my generation did not protect these experiences well enough to be able to pass them on to you. I’m sorry we were too passive, that the generations preceding and including mine couldn’t get past perceived differences to move towards a common goal. I’m sorry we didn’t care enough about your grandchildren’s future. We didn’t push hard enough, speak loud enough, refuse to settle so much. Mostly I’m sorry that we did to you exactly as they did to us. Left you with a bigger, more complex mess than we started with, because we couldn’t communicate effectively enough to deal with it ourselves.
Humanity is a complex web of interconnectedness, and I don’t mean the type of interconnection dependent on smart phones and fiber optics, I mean the type of interconnection where every single one of your actions has some type of repercussion that affects someone or something else on this tiny planet you and so many other living beings call home. We’ve already begun to see the disproportionately catastrophic effects of unchecked pollution and climate change in all corners of the world, and by the time you read this I’m sure these climate disasters will be commonplace occurrences. Extreme and unusual weather events, crop cycle disruption leading to food shortages, drought and water shortages, heat waves, sea level rise. All things that are already happening, but are so often overlooked by those with the power, money, and infrastructure to make any real change. The inaction of my generation and those preceding mine is causing repercussions we are unable to currently fathom. These repercussions do not affect our immediate or near future selves, so consequently people often choose to ignore their very existence.
Within the context of United States politics, conservative Americans are biologically more inclined to adhere to the moral foundations of in-group loyalty, moral purity, and respect for authority, whereas liberal Americans relate more readily to the moral foundations of equality, fairness, and protection of the vulnerable. Independent of each other these two different ways of valuing society and political action are both valid and useful ways of looking at the world. Unfortunately, when pitted against one another, these differences can lead to adversarial opinions with scope too large and too contradictory to be overcome by the standard political debate and decision making methods intrinsic to American democracy. My generation has settled for emotional arguments, empty promises, and half-hearted attempts at compromise. Do not settle so much as we did. Be willing to sacrifice immediate and localized wants for the long term needs of humanity as a whole, and be willing to make that sacrifice and its purpose known loudly and boldly. While those in Washington must learn to practice better argument, those at home must learn to practice better vocalization.
Understand that those who do not recognize the urgency of this threat are not blind or stupid, but more likely suffer from a deep unprocessed sense of anxiety, powerlessness, and paralysis. Watching the world burn is a terrifying thing. Let those with real or perceived opposition to action have their say. Listen sincerely to their arguments, for many do have valid points to consider and all deserve to be heard. Learn from these opinions but do not settle for a group consensus that you disagree with. True communication, especially in the U.S. political sphere, is often hindered by rampant emotions, illogical reasoning, and a desire to simply reach common ground. The inability to reach a decision and to take action on climate change has caused the U.S., one of the forerunning world powers, to lag behind in setting an example on the international stage. This has in turn caused repercussions felt by those in fragile places such as developing countries, because they are unable to be a strong enough voice for change on their own.
Henry Kissinger wrote, “It is not often that nations learn from the past, even rarer that they draw the correct conclusions from it.” Do not make this mistake, but instead recognize the faults the generations preceding yours made in political discussion, learn to correct these by listening to each other, learning from each other, and refusing to settle for unacceptable compromises. The world has far too much to lose. Strong and effective pro-climate action should have been taken decades ago, but we failed and for that I am sorry. I’m begging you to take this torch I’m holding, however dim it may be, recognize its importance and necessity, and use it to light the way for those who cannot light it themselves.
With love and respect, Me
*A piece for Dr. Wiley’s English 145 class at Cal Poly SLO