Climate Hope: A letter to my daughter

As you know, I turn 61 next week.  Perhaps you will send a present, but talking with you will be gift enough for me.  Paradoxically, I have been thinking what to give you, or more precisely, what my generation will leave to yours.  The last few times we talked, you expressed dismay over the issue of climate change, and I have heard your emotions run from disgust to despair.  I get it.  But I want to offer you some hope and a little fatherly advice. 

At the Climate March, 2017

A parent never wants to let their children down, or at least we work hard to make your life easier and better than ours.  We want to protect you from all the bad out there, and we want to share with you the same opportunities and joys we had.  And I feel I have come up short as a parent when I think of how the oceans and Great Lakes are rising, the weather changing for the worse, special places burning up, and severe disruptions coming.

The Outer Banks is one of the most significant places your mother and I have shared with you and your brother.  We feel there a legacy from generation to generation, and what was a gift to us we have been able to give to others. Last summer when we were on that doomed ribbon of sand, I felt some deep grief (here is what I wrote then).  I was just back in North Carolina, and I could sense the same dread, but I also felt a resolve to keep working towards a better world. It is always good to be at the beach house, and I left feeling optimistic.

There are four things that give me hope for you and your generation, and if we are successful in our efforts, for the generations after yours.  First, the science says it is not too late to save much of what we have and adapt to the changes that are coming.  Second, the women of your generation have engaged in climate action and improved our chances of success. Third, the clear-eyed corporate world has already moved to action.  And fourth, more and more people have come to recognize how special and important nature is to us all. 

Sustainability is still possible says research conducted by scientists with The Nature Conservancy.  There is time yet to meet the climate targets set by the Paris Accords, and do so while keeping a strong economy and meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for adequate food, clean water, affordable energy, and more.  Checking climate change and building a healthier world will not be an easy task, but it is possible.  We need to re-orient our economies, move to new energy sources, and change fishing and agricultural practices; and we need to get started now.  We should not, at this point, despair for the future. But science is not enough, we need action.

Women can lead the way to effective climate action and help us achieve sustainability. This is not to say that older white men like me do not have a role to play, but your  generation—which is more egalitarian and less sexist—can be more effective than the men who came before. “Look around and you will see on the rise climate leadership that is more characteristically feminine and more faithfully feminist,” note the editors of All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, “rooted in compassion, connection, creativity, and collaboration.” These are qualities you have in abundance and the active leadership of your diverse peers can help the world change course.

Corporations get it, and that signals possibility. We cannot expect the business world to lead us out of this crisis, but those who are looking at long-term economics in a changing world have come to understand the need to fight climate change.  In your career, you have seen how new products respond to the consumer demand for sustainability, and you know the economic muscle corporations wield.  I have seen it too, with companies like Dow, who have risen beyond their toxic histories to value nature in their business practices. We need to respond to the reality that more and more companies now recognize, and create effective and equitable policies that help all companies efficiently use market forces to counter climate change.  

Nature sustains us all.  You and I have had this truth confirmed in these last few months as we headed to the out-of-doors for respite, recreation, and re-connection. The personal appreciation of nature reminds us that clean water, healthy air, and a diverse ecosystem are all necessary for a sustainable future.  Nature—saving forests, wetlands, and oceans—offers us the quickest and most necessary tool for climate action.  As more people come to value nature, we can act on more natural climate solutions.  

Thirteen years ago, when you were a sophomore in high school, the Weather Channel selected you to participate in the Forecast Earth Summit and you came back informed and inspired.  Your experience influenced me to become more active in climate work. On a hot day in April three years ago, you returned to Washington DC to march with me and show our commitment to climate action.  Still, I am sad and angry that those events did not have more immediate outcomes. 

My daughter (the tall one) with new friends at the Forecast Earth Summit, 2007

Looking back, I am discouraged by the loss of time. Yet, much has changed in the last decade. More people understand the need to act; the political leaders in your state, New York, have set bold goals, and now so too has the Governor of Michigan.  Other states and cities, and many other nations, have implemented strong policies.  All that is missing is a comprehensive national framework in alignment with international efforts. We now have the chance, right after my birthday, to elect leadership to make the United States a leader again in the campaign against climate change.  I know you know how important this election is, not only for President, but for members of Congress as well.  

Our vote this fall is the single most important action we can take.  But however the election turns out, we will still have work to do.  I know we both share a personal commitment to doing what we can to reduce our carbon impact, but we also know that individual action is not enough.  Rather, our own stewardship of nature and climate-responsible behaviors serve as the grounding and inspiration for what we need to do in the political and business world.  We need to create strong policies and programs, with incentives and accountability, at all levels of government for all sectors of the economy.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to keep talking about climate change, and do so positively.  I know you and your friends have gotten beyond the paralyzing and pointless question “do you believe in climate change?”  It is not a question of belief, as the facts of climate change are now apparent.  Rather, we need to talk to friends and colleagues about solutions, and to give each other hope and encouragement in what will be a long, hard effort to transform our society and economy for the better.

Talk to your grandfather sometime soon about World War II.  As you know, he is a history student of that time period and he can share with you how the outcome of that multi-year, global effort was never certain, and how progress was thwarted and setbacks encountered because of mistakes, false assumptions, personal failings of our leaders, and outright defeats.  Just as with your grandparent’s generation, we don’t know all the right steps to take for climate action, but we know that we must engage the battle and defeat climate change.

As each year passes, I think more about my legacy.  I have been fortunate to spend time in wilderness and that has given me a strong spiritual connection to the natural world. I have been fortunate to find myself in a position where I can make a small difference in the place I live. I am even more fortunate to have you as a daughter, and we are part of several powerful family legacies.  My gift, I hope, is to leave the planet just a little bit better and work with you and others to set us on a better path. I believe we will do it.   Love, Dad.

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