Photo by Kamil Porembiński

Dear heads-of-state, oil execs, editors-in-chief, and billionaires 

Your inaction on climate change is destroying [y]our future.

2012 was the hottest year on record. Predictably, that year saw a dramatic uptick in extreme weather events. Less predictably, it also saw a seven-year low in the media’s coverage of climate change.

Given those circumstances, I was increasingly motivated to take action, but less and less optimistic that any action available to someone like me could change things quickly enough. Grassroots movements take time to coalesce, and we don’t have time. It’s clear that the climate crisis requires immediate, aggressive leadership from those already in power.

So I wrote the letter below, directly addressing the people who should be leading the charge on climate change, but aren’t: heads of state in countries emitting the most carbon, CEOs of the top grossing oil and gas companies, editors-in-chief at the most popular news outlets, and the richest people in the world.

Events over the last year have unfolded such that, amazingly, the letter is being published as a paid ad in the LA Times this Sunday, November 10th.

Dear notable VIP —

This letter is addressed to you because you are influential, you have children, and you are not taking sufficient action on climate change.

Climate change has presented all of us with an enormous moral challenge, but the level of our personal responsibility is commensurate with the sphere of our influence. You have the resources to make a huge impact, and nothing less than a huge impact will be able to change the course we’re on. The rest of us can only hope to use our meager influence to influence you.

This letter is not going to make the case for the reality of climate change. Whatever you might say in public, you clearly accept its reality; your governments, organizations, and companies are already strategizing around how to cope with it. The purpose of this letter is to express moral outrage.

Generations before you faced challenges similar in scale and moral weight: fascism, genocide, epidemics, inequality. They are rightly remembered for bravely confronting the quandaries history presented to them. Unlike them, you dally in the face of this challenge and so, unlike them, you will be remembered as the generation who knew better but did nothing out of selfish shortsightedness.

Whether or not your place in history matters to you, you have children. Some of you even have grandchildren. They are the ones you love most dearly in this life and they stand to suffer terribly from the effects of climate change; yet you are effectively doing nothing to avert it.

The only reasonable explanation for your inaction is that you assume you’ll be able to protect your children and grandchildren because you are wealthy or powerful (or both). Unfortunately for all of us, you are wrong.

Money and influence will not save them because you will have ensured the destruction of the very systems giving money and influence any meaning. You have failed to prioritize your children’s most basic needs over your own profit and comfort by knowingly purchasing your prosperity with their future. Continuing on this path guarantees them a worse life than the one you have enjoyed.

The increasing frequency of extreme weather events indicates that now may be the eleventh hour for our climate. It’s clear we don’t have the luxury of our usual three-steps-forward, two-steps-back approach to solving large problems. Profound action must be taken immediately.

If you feel any gratitude whatsoever toward the generations before you, and if you in any way value your children’s future, it should be clear what needs to happen:

If you are a world leader, make climate change legislation your number one priority. Tax carbon. Close your public lands to fossil fuel extraction. Block any new infrastructure for the extraction, transportation, and burning of fossil fuels. Refuse to trade with countries doing anything less.

If you are the head of an energy company, stop extracting fossil fuels from the ground and stop selling them. Use your vast wealth to develop and promote renewable sources of energy. Refuse to do business with companies doing anything less.

If you are a member of the news media, start covering climate change like the crisis that it is. Make it front-page news every day. Keep it on everyone’s radar.

If you are extremely wealthy, stop investing in companies that extract and burn fossil fuels; fund initiatives that cut greenhouse gas emissions and foster carbon-free energy sources; and lobby lawmakers to pass legislation taxing carbon. Insist that your peers do the same and hold them accountable if they don’t.

As the powerful and wealthy, your influence can make an enormous difference—probably the difference—in halting climate change. Act now. Stop worrying about what’s possible and start doing what’s necessary. Earn your children’s respect. Redeem humanity.

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