You are so small. So innocent. So beautiful. For you and for everyone else, I will try harder.

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Trisha Shrum
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Dear Eleanor,

You are not yet a year old. And I love you dearly. And I wanted to write you a letter to open in 50 years. You see, I just came back from a conference in Iceland. I’m on the plane right now watching the sunset for 4 hours as we chase it through the sky. I gave a talk on how to help build support for climate change action. As we were boarding the plane, a colleague said that he was struck by the words of Christiana Figueres and that it had motivated him to come on board with climate change action. She said that future generations will look back on us and be shocked that we knew what climate change would likely entail and we didn’t do anything to stop it. And I thought, if every person alive today wrote a letter to their children or grandchildren about what their position and action on climate change, then we just might get somewhere. So I’m going to start with me and you.

I have a lot of carbon guilt. I fly a lot. I’ve been all over the world. I just flew to Iceland for three days (I really miss you, by the way). I use energy efficient light bulbs and I try to get used clothing instead of new, but I still have far too many clothes. I feed you (and me) mostly organic food. We drive a Prius, which is my second hybrid gas-electric car. I don’t drive most days and instead bike, walk, or take the bus. I study climate change and energy efficiency and human behavior. I want to understand why people ignore climate change and why they do so little to stop it. That is my life’s work. Or at least, I hope it will be.

I have been driven by the climate change problem for quite a few years now. In 2009, we all hoped that we would reach an international agreement in Copenhagen. It was to be the next step after the Kyoto Protocol. The negotiations failed. And I became so discouraged. I stopped believing it was possible to come to a global agreement to mitigate climate change. I didn’t even want to think about the issue anymore because it made me so sad. So I dug down into a smaller corner of the issue: energy efficiency. I figured that surely I could find a way to help there. I’ve done a little, but not much. An Op-Ed in the Lawrence paper. A study that failed to bring about interesting results. I volunteer for political campaigns for people I believe will do something about climate change if given the opportunity.

I’ve tried, but, to be honest, I haven’t tried all that hard. Instead I’ve focused on my own life. I fell in love with your father and got married and had you. Normal beautiful things. But I stopped trying so hard. And now I am beginning to see that for you, I need to try harder than ever before.

Politics are ugly these days. I can’t imagine this can continue for 50 years. If it gets much worse, then change seems like it would become a necessity and would be rather inevitable. It is so hard to do anything that powerful corporations don’t want to have done. The public is very distracted and very divided. People live in very different realities. We don’t even agree on the most basic facts of existence. But almost everyone cares about family. Or at least their own kids. That’s why I wonder if this idea of writing to one’s own children would make a difference.

Climate change. I don’t know what the climate will look like when you are 50. I don’t think it will be good. I think you will have a very different coastline. I doubt you’ll be able to visit Venice or New Orleans without galoshes or waders at least. Many of the animals will be gone. The coral reefs are probably long gone. Coral reefs were beautiful. Your father especially absolutely loved snorkeling. We went snorkeling on our honeymoon in Thailand and saw beautiful creatures of all colors and unlikely shapes. When you are old enough to hold on to the memory, I’ll take you snorkeling so you can see them for yourself and tell your kids about them.

Maybe it won’t be much worse than that. Maybe we’ll get our shit together and reduce our emissions. Maybe we’ll invent our technological savior and we can leave the coal in the ground. Or maybe we’ll take the coal and replace it with CO2. All of these things are possible.

But I’d like to say that I’ve done more. I want to figure out why other people won’t join the fight or at least be on the right side of history. I still don’t know what path will be most fruitful. But I want to try. Whatever I do, I need to know that I am trying to fix this.

Maybe I’ll write another letter in 10 years. And I’ll be able to tell you how hard I’ve been trying. I love nature so much. It has been my sanctuary and my church and my playground ever since I was a little girl. And I want you to have that. Maybe we’ll move to Sweden and climate change won’t be so bad there. But the world will suffer. We need to help them too. And I want you to be able to backpack through South America and see the glaciers in Patagonia and the jungle in the Amazon. I want you to have the opportunity to enjoy the beauties and fruits of the world I knew. It is such a beautiful world.

I love you dearly, my sweet daughter. You are so small. So innocent. So beautiful. For you and for everyone else, I will try harder.

All my love,
Mama

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