This past October, I started drafting a rare all-family email. These are normally reserved for major personal developments in my own life, but in this case I felt compelled to do what I could to explain to them that we all needed to start taking an issue of public importance more seriously than we were.
Here’s what I wrote:
Dear Family –
You know it’s not often that I send an all-family alert email. But I must say, there is something we all need to give some serious, come-to-jesus thought to – and no, it actually isn’t Trump.
It’s climate change. For the big picture, where-do-we-currently-stand assessment, this is probably the most important thing you can read this year: http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/10/un-says-climate-genocide-coming-but-its-worse-than-that.html
[Interlude: Go read that NY Magazine article now. Ok… done? Continue on:
None of that is hyperbole. What does that mean for us regular people? It means that anyone who is not arranging their future for a generational response to this global catastrophe at this point simply has their head in the sand. (Which, hey – I get it.)
But all the worst of it – the droughts, fires, hurricanes, the global displacement of a billion people, and the wars, famines, and societal breakdown that all of that will engender – will become increasingly and unbearably clear just as [redacted: names of my kids and those of my two siblings] reach adulthood. And they will wonder how our generations have been so irresponsible. And then they will wonder why we didn’t at least prepare. What do we do? The U.S. may be wealthy and better able to cope with Climate Change than, say, Bangladesh, but as the past two years have shown, that doesn’t mean we’re immune to societal breakdown. That breakdown will happen unevenly here, and in varying degrees depending on which part of the country you’re in. Suddenly electing enlightened governments will not solve the problem, though perhaps it could help mitigate the most disastrous effects around the margins. In my opinion, the most important thing we could do is look north. There is basically a circle we can draw around northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, upstate NY, Vermont, NH, and Maine – those will be the ONLY places in the United States that are significantly insulated from the effects of Climate Change. They all have access to fresh water, and will avoid the worst of increasingly severe droughts, forest fires, hurricanes, and tropical diseases migrating north.
To my siblings, I say: now is the time to take seriously the world your kids will grow up in, and think about what decisions you can make now that will protect the wealth we have and build on it for their sake, amid a world ravaged by climate change.
To everyone else older than me, I can only say: do not under-estimate the degree to which the next thirty years of your life will be influenced by this unfolding global catastrophe. Things happen slowly, and then all at once. And that all-at-once is coming sooner than we thought.
I never sent this email, because a few weeks after writing it I took an impromptu trip home to Santa Fe, where I got to say it all in person. It made for some pretty despondent conversations. In the months since, I have had equally despondent conversations with many of my friends.
But here’s the truth: within thirty years, global climate change and our response to it will be virtually the only thing anyone talks about. You think the migrant crisis in Europe is bad now? Wait until hundreds of millions of poor people in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia are driven from their homes by flooding, droughts, or a war caused by some version of climate change-induced resource scarcity. You think a few thousand migrants showing up at the U.S. border during a mid-term election made for interesting politics? Many of those farmers who left Central America left because changing weather patterns made it impossible to get the same yield from their farms as they had in the past. Just wait…
Everyone Has Their Head in the Sand… Or do they?
My conversations with family were productive: they get it. But my conversations with friends, who more or less take my opinion with a grain of salt, were often met with a sort of shrug. Well shit, they seem to say, It’s not that I disagree with you. That sounds pretty bad. But what can I really do about any of that right now? I’ve got my own problems.
There’s a scene from a recent South Park that pretty much sums it up:
In the U.S., pretty much the entire Republican party is in the deny-the problem-even exists camp. But many more, while they may accept the severity of climate change, inevitably bury their heads in the sand in the face of such a gigantic problem: “Ok, Man-Bear-Pig is real. What are we gonna do about it now, huh? What are we gonna do that’s going to make any difference now, Susan?”
Like I said in my email to my family: hey, I get it. I likely have my head in the sand about a lot of things in life. Not this one, though.
An Extraordinary Young Woman
I have been writing a lot of depressing blog posts lately, so let me end this one on a small note of hope. One positive development that has happened since last October is that Democrats won the House, and among the incoming House freshmen is an extraordinary young woman: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
There are a lot of wonderful things I could say about AOC, but two of them stand out: first of all, she talks normally, like a normal person. A year ago she was an over-educated Millennial bartending at a restaurant in the Bronx, so that’s cool, but what’s even cooler is how she’s managed to keep being herself through a political campaign that drew national attention. Now that she is on her way to Congress, she has maintained that straight-forward normalcy. Follow her on Instagram, and you’ll start to see what I mean. Let’s hope she keeps it up forever.
The second extraordinary thing about AOC is that in both the way she talks about climate change and the solution she is proposing, she is accurately reflecting the scale of the problem. It is frankly crazy that I have to call that extraordinary, but it is. She is the first nationally-recognized U.S. politician that I have ever seen do this, but better late than never I suppose.
Take her tweet from a few days ago:
We must keep pushing on a #GreenNewDeal.
We simply don’t have any other choice. If it’s radical to propose a solution on the scale of the problem, so be it.
We’ve got a planet to save and there’s a whole lot of opportunity we can create in the process.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 31, 2018
The bolding is mine.
AOC, if you’re listening, I want to freakin’ hug you for that tweet. If only we could apply that logic everywhere we face serious challenges, we regular folk might just start to take our political leaders seriously again.
But all governing bodies must set priorities, and in choosing climate change, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has chosen correctly. The problem is a global catastrophe the likes of which no government on earth has yet to fully reckon the consequences of. The solution is a complete World War II-level transformation of our entire economy (in fact, the entire world’s economy) to get to 100 percent renewable energy ASAP.
That is what AOC is proposing, and it is the only proposal around that respects the enormity of the problem. And for that reason, I support it. You should too. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is, finally, a politician who does not have their head in the sand, nor is she one that speaks to voters as if we do.