Dear future me,
Man, you are oldddd. Hey, at least you made it to 2050 though, right?…..right?!?
How’s 59 treating you?? Here’s to hoping you’re not still single, living with your parents, and working for free! 😉🤞
I’m writing to you about – what else – the climate crisis.
I’ve spent countless hours thinking, writing, and talking about this. Where do I even begin?
I’ll go with my gut.
When I really let myself think about it, I get a wave of deep grief and tear up for all the life that has, is, and will suffer or die unnecessarily – especially the billions of innocent people. We’re on a path where the very building blocks of a stable society – food, water, shelter, and livelihoods – are increasingly threatened and disappearing around the world. Nobody deserves that.
We’re living through the beginning of a mass extinction. Much of the life on earth is dying. I can feel that loss, that pain.
I get scared when I think about the hurricanes, fires, floods, heatwaves, and drought that are getting more and more extreme. I’m equally scared of the slower-moving trends like sea level rise and desertification making it harder for people to live in many parts of the world. I’m scared of the irreversible tipping points we may set off at any time. I’m scared of people latching onto eco-fascism, selfishness, and fear rather than human rights, just solutions, and love.
I get glimmers of hope when I see how the climate movement is growing. And when I meet or learn of all the people doing amazing work all over the world. That solidarity, courage, and momentum are palpable.
And I get pissed at the few powerful people who effectively sold out our entire species. They knowingly killed and are killing enormous amounts of life on earth so they can have…some more money and power. I believe this will eventually come to be seen as a crime against humanity.
So that’s how I’m feeling right now in October 2020 (…don’t even get me started on the election or pandemic).
Here’s how I’m thinking about where we stand on climate, what we’re up against, and what I promise to do about it.
Where we stand
We’re a long way from where we need to go. And don’t have much time to get there.
We’ve warmed the planet by 1°C so far and it’s already wreaking havoc. But emissions are still rising. We’re on track for 3°C or 4°C right now.
(Perspective: When temperatures were just 4°C cooler some 20,000 years ago, there was a mile of ice where I now sit in Needham, Massachusetts. And if temperatures were to rise by 4°C, the World Bank says we may not be able to adapt.)
The Paris Agreement is a start but it’s far too weak. Countries need to triple their current Paris Agreement commitments to limit warming to 2°C. And would need to do 5 times more to limit warming to 1.5°C.
The slogan of island nations around the world is “1.5 to stay alive”. Yet we only have about a 5% chance of staying below 2°C.
There’s a certain level of never-before-seen human suffering that’s already locked in because of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere.
Not only do we have to stop emissions ASAP, but we must figure out how to draw massive amounts of emissions down from the atmosphere to save as many lives as possible.
Society’s system in its current form is badly broken – self-destructive. Today, in 2020, the system prioritizes profits and corporations instead of people and the planet. And it internalized the false belief that we are apart from, rather than a part of, nature.
These fundamental design flaws and inaccurate beliefs have thrown the climate and ecosystems, which humans and all life on earth depend on, out of balance. The corrupt, radical, and broken system we all live in is destroying us and everything we care about.
We’re talking the sixth mass extinction, many millions of people dying at the very least, and up to a billion people being forced to leave their homes by 2050. It’s unimaginable.
…and I haven’t even mentioned the minefield of irreversible tipping points we walk through every day.
The bottom line is this:
We need radical, rapid action on climate.
The costs of incremental or delayed action are far too high.
All the good people in the world today who understand what we’re facing have a lot of life-saving work to do.
What we’re up against
The good news is that we already have the solutions we need. They’d save millions of lives immediately just by decreasing the air pollution that’s poisoning our bodies. They’re economical right now. And the majority of people want them.
But none of this seems to matter as much as it should.
More people in the climate space, myself included, are realizing the full extent to which solving climate change really isn’t about the science or technology. No, we’ve had those basics figured out for a while now.
Solving climate change is all about power.
Some of the most powerful people in the world have actively delayed climate action for decades.
The fossil fuel industry has spent billions on what the Drilled Podcast Series has called “the propaganda campaign of the century”. It includes robust disinformation campaigns and lobbying lawmakers to delay climate action. They’re not alone of course. The Farm Bureau in the US has also played a lesser-known but key role in protecting and propping up fossil fuels…to the detriment of the very farmers they represent. As have the electric utilities, transportation industry, and others.
Meanwhile, lawmakers around the world continue to subsidize the very fossil fuels that are killing us to the tune of $492 billion a year (which is far more than renewables). When you account for all of the societal costs, that number balloons up to a $3.65 to $5.3 trillion gift for the destructive industry.
There’s also some inertia in this destructive system, and a resistance to change (…older generations in particular hold most of the economic, corporate, and political power right now. Love them, but they’re largely still in a form of denial and seriously need to step up on this. We can’t turn this ship around quickly enough without more of them actively on our side).
Many good people haven’t fully grasped that if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. Because the status quo is deadly. And time is of the essence.
So, in many ways, the odds are stacked against us. We’re up against incredibly powerful forces without enough numbers on our side yet. And we don’t know exactly how much damage we’ve already locked in.
But as Katharine Wilkinson and Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson say in All We Can Save, “While it is too late to save everything—some ecological damage is irreparable, some species are already gone, ice has already melted, lives have already been lost—it is far too soon to give up on the rest.”
So I can’t promise you will have a safer, healthier, and more just world in 2050
But I do promise you to do everything in my power to bring that better world to life.
I promise to never give up
I will take the opportunity to re-up the promise I made to myself in 2013: I will make stopping the climate crisis my life’s work. I’ll do everything I can to help rebuild a safer, healthier, and more just world by working to reverse global warming as quickly as possible.
I’m doing this work because I see it as the best way to save and improve as many lives as possible. I’m doing it so you, 2050 Ryan, can look at yourself in the mirror. And so you can tell your kids and grandkids someday that you did everything you could.
I promise to keep following this north star and having faith I’ll eventually be able to make a living doing it.
I will keep learning, growing, and finding new ways to increase my overall impact.
Lastly, this is really hard work. So I promise to get better at taking care of myself in order to keep doing it.
The only way to overcome this entrenched, destructive power we’re facing is to build up our own power in the places we live and work.
This is an all hands on deck situation.
Everyone has an important and unique role to play right now. We all have different skills, experiences, ideas, resources, networks, and perspectives. It’s all useful. I’m trying to help people realize they are powerful and act upon it sooner rather than later.
I’m trying to inform minds, touch hearts, and inspire action.
I’m trying to get all the good, unactivated people out there to realize this isn’t about who they are, but rather when they are in time.
When we are in time demands we build the biggest and strongest team possible of good people taking meaningful action on climate together.
We need courage. We need leaders. We need any and all good people doing what they can with what they have.
Because that is what it’s going to take.
We need to stop dumping emissions up into the atmosphere and start drawing them down as soon as possible.
Everybody everywhere has to start asking, “Who’s in charge of our systems, communities, companies, and institutions? How can we get them to act at a scale that matches the problem at hand? What or who influences them? And if they won’t step up and lead, how can we non-violently replace them with someone who will? What can I do to help make change in my spheres of influence where I live and work? Who can I work with to make meaningful, lasting change as soon as possible?”
We have not risen to what we are capable of as a species.
Our untapped potential is enormous.
If enough of us step up, come together as a team, and collaborate, I believe we will mobilize the all-hands-on-deck effort that is required, and rebuild a world that is better than the one we have today.
The better world I hope you have
As messed up as it is, there is a level of climatic changes and suffering that we have already locked in.
I hope we are able to prepare and adapt in order to minimize suffering. And I hope as these tragedies unfold, the world meets them with compassion, meaningful aid, and reparation for innocent people who lose everything.
But with our best efforts, I believe your world can be better than today’s world in many ways.
I hope your air and water are finally clean for the health of people everywhere. And that environmental racism is a dark chapter of the past.
I hope farmers work with nature rather than against it so your food is tastier and healthier. And so the soil becomes a healthy carbon sink again.
I hope singing birds, laughter, and silence replace all these noisy fossil fuel engines.
I hope cities become people-centric instead of car-centric. I imagine parks, outdoor seating, bike lanes, community gardens, and state of the art public transit replacing parking spaces for cars.
I hope backyards have been transformed into carbon sequestering powerhouses and producers of food.
I hope forests full of beauty and life have replaced graveyards of grey and stone – trees instead of tombstones.
I hope kids can be kids – and not be forced to do work the important work their elders are ignoring.
I hope society prioritizes people and the planet over GDP.
I hope that millions have found good-paying, meaningful jobs building this better world.
I hope western nations recognize and begin to heal past wrongs with indigenous peoples. I hope they celebrate and begin to incorporate indigenous wisdom into the DNA of our new, harmonious systems.
I hope we support, work with, and cherish nature rather than destroying and misunderstanding it.
I hope we rediscover that being human is about community, cooperation, and love more than it is individualism, competition, and hate.
When the time comes, I can see you adopting a child without parents due to climate chaos. I also hope at that time, you felt comfortable enough with the world’s path to decide to have a child of your own.
I hope people everywhere were able to work together to build this better world for themselves and everyone else – for the people we love and places we call home. If we do it well, we’ll not only tackle the climate crisis, but also the racial, economic, and health crises at the same time.
This is the world that I and so many others are working tirelessly to bring to life.