She said they stare at her and ask the question: “You Knew and What Did You Do?” And at that moment it suddenly hit me: my generation’s slavery is going to be climate change.
I am writing a letter to you many years before you are even a possibility. I am at Harvard Kennedy School right now and have joined a group of amazing people in an effort to ensure our society is reflecting seriously about climate change. The idea is to write a letter to you that you will read when you turn 50. I am only 25 right now so this is a bit weird for me. But for some reason, I am crying as I write this to you. It’s particularly odd because I would have probably laughed at the idea of writing a letter to my future children a few months ago. I hope that this letter will be more helpful for me than for you though, and I hope that when you read it, everything will be all right with the world.
Our world is in bad shape right now. Mexico – the country that we both love so much – is falling apart because of violence and crime. Things are scary. It hasn’t been growing at its potential for years and inequality is getting worse. For the longest time, I’ve always thought I would try to fix Mexico’s problems. When I left to study in the U.S. (more than 7 years ago now) I was determined to go back and help. For a while that’s all that mattered to me. But very recently I have started thinking about what I think is an even bigger challenge: climate change and what’s going to happen to the world if we don’t deal with it now. I am sure I will still go back and do something for Mexico at some point, but for now, I feel like I have to deal with the issue of climate change.
It’s scary to change directions in such a sudden and dramatic way. But I guess that’s how real change happens. And I think it would be scarier not to change. This new direction and sense of purpose came late in the game for me. Especially relative to the people who are also writing these letters right now. I hear how much they have already done and feel kind of embarrassed it has taken me so long to figure out the urgency of the problem.
This change in me all started because of an intellectual exercise. A couple years ago I started asking what is going on in our world right now that your generation will look back on and not understand how we could let it get so bad. What is my generation’s equivalent of slavery? I thought about this a lot. And came up with a ton of potential answers but none convinced me. The answer that did convince me came to me in Iceland a few weeks ago. I was there for a conference on the Arctic, which I honestly went to because I wanted a free trip to Iceland. But while I was there I got to spend sometime with people who were really passionate about climate change issues and thought about these issues completely differently than me.
The last day of the conference a woman gave a speech that she ended by describing a recurring dream she has where she sees the eyes of our future generations. She said they stare at her and ask the question: “You Knew and What Did You Do?” And at that moment it suddenly hit me: my generation’s slavery is going to be climate change. I called your grandma and grandpa the day I got back from Iceland. I had never felt this way before. I suddenly felt determined to solve what I viewed as the most pressing issue of our generation. I know am an idealist, but I promise, I am going to try as hard as I can to figure this out.
I’ve told you many times about how proud you should be of your family. Your great-grandparents were amazing people. Yaya and Avi, Grandma and Kenneth – they were the kind of people who made the world a better place and who were determined to stand up for what they believed in, even if it was not the easy thing to do. And your grandparents are the best. I am so proud of everything they have done and do for me, your uncle’s Dan and Jul, and for Mexico.
When your grandfather resigned from government, someone sent him this quote:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Your grandmother has often reminded me of that quote. It has had a big impact on me. I have always worried that I will inadvertently become one of those critics. And to be honest I think I might have become one of those critics when it came to climate change. You know (more than most) that I am someone who believes in markets, business and efficiency. And that’s how I have always thought about climate change. I’ve argued that the solution is obvious: put a price on carbon. I still am convinced that’s the solution and will try very hard to implement it (its going to be really tough though). But what happened to me in Iceland was a realization that I can no longer use knowing the solution as an excuse for inaction and criticism of other’s efforts. I realized that’s what I had been doing. There is a solution, but it’s useless if its never implemented. And so now, I know I need to do so much more. I can’t be one of those critics anymore.
To be honest, I am still figuring out what I should do. I have thought about becoming a vegetarian (or at least reducing my meat in-take). That’s going to be tough because I love meat so much and have (embarrassingly so) always made fun of vegetarians, but I am going to try. I am going to walk and bike more. I am going to dedicate my academic and professional life to this issue.
I know it doesn’t sound like much right now. I guess I am still trying to figure out what I will do. Everything I come up with just doesn’t seem like enough. But I do know that I’m going to spend a lot of time and energy trying figure this problem out.
Your grandma always says that, despite my stubbornness, my greatest strength is my ability to change my mind and admit when I was wrong. That’s what I am doing now. I hope you’ll never be afraid to change your mind and admit you were wrong. It’s always a good thing.
So to answer the question from the Iceland conference – I haven’t done anything yet. I guess writing this letter is a good first step. But I promise you that I am going to give this my best shot.
I love you very much,
(can’t believe I just signed like that – jaja).