I don’t really know how to begin. So, I think I should just begin by saying, “I’m sorry for not doing enough to halt climate change.” On one hand, I can feel defensive — that it’s not really my apology to make. On the other hand, how can I deny that I am complicit?
It’s easy for me to look over my shoulder and say, well, the generation before me, when I was as old as you — 30, or even 40, years ago — had enough information to take serious action, to stand and lead, but chose not to. That’s easy, but also a cop out, because my generation has come to adulthood, and despite having even better information, we’ve dilly-dallied, and hoped it would just go away, and failed to take real responsibility.
I’m offering an apology, and casting blame around, but I know that neither of those help the situation we are in, and which you will live with your whole lives.
The world is changing very quickly, in some very grim ways. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Special Report on “The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” this week and detailed the dismemberment of our ocean ecosystems as a result of the climate crisis. The consequences for humans will range from moderate to utter devastation, depending on how close to the oceans we live (at least 1 billion of us live along ocean coasts), depending on how deep into the century we live, and especially depending on how much we curb our greenhouse gas emissions. It seems that weekly there are updates on extinctions, heat waves, wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, mass migration, forest destruction and melting glaciers.
I am deeply ashamed by our behavior. I think many adults are ashamed; maybe even most. Ashamed that we have pursued so many luxuries without considering the cost — a cost which turns out to be essentially incalculable. At the same time, I — and I think most adults — are profoundly afraid that giving up these luxuries, our excessive technologies, will mean that we are doomed to a less than human existence, a less than dignified way to live; that moving to low-power, or scaled-down energy access, or a slower, more local pace will represent loss and failure and unhappiness. Rather than face the truth — that our fossil-fuel technologies are destroying us — it has been easier for us to chase a foolish fairytale: that our technological prowess will save us at the last moment, just before everything collapses, and whisk us away into the sky to live happily ever after.
Life on a giant, rotating space station would be anything but a fairytale, I’m guessing. And terra-forming another planet, like Mars, would be much closer to a nightmare.
Which brings us back to this planet. This Earth has been so good to us, so perfect for us. So, I’m also sorry that as you grow, and grow older, you will hear more and more stories of the Earth that used to be, which will indeed sound more and more like a fairytale, something which couldn’t possibly have been real.
As you work to maintain the remaining scraps of that world, you’ll wonder how it was that we, your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, we who said we loved you and wanted you, would have been willing to break so much of your home. I am desperately sorry for this.
Maybe the thing I feel most sorry for is that we keep asking you to remain hopeful, even though we adults continue to give so little reason for hope.
We know what to do. By the grace of all that’s good, we’ll follow through. But if we don’t, you must not follow our example. Dear children, you must find a smarter and gentler way to live on Earth. You will recognize the way when you come to it.