Last year, when I was tucking you in to bed one night, you said, “I wish I lived a thousand years ago.” When I asked you why, you said, “Because there would be no pollution, and no global warming.”
It breaks my heart every time I think about that night.
You just turned 10. You are my middle child, my musician, my sensitive soul, my engineer. You dream big, and love big. Your favorite color is hot pink, your hair falls to the middle of your back, and you love your baseball team deeply.
You are in general a deep person. You perceive things, even the things I wish you didn’t notice. You notice things that other people don’t. Because of this, you carry a special burden. You carry a small measure of sadness with you as you go about your exuberant 10-year-old life. That is why I am writing this letter to you today.
I am so, so sorry that you have to live with pollution and climate change. I want you to know how much I tried to shift our civilization’s pollution problem. I have written letters, been to marches, talked to lawmakers, and devoted my professional career to educating people about air pollution and climate change. Working with Moms Clean Air Force on climate change has been so gratifying, because I fervently believe that individual actions are not enough to solve this problem. We need society-wide transformation. In our country, that means that the response has to be a collective response, a political response, a civic response.
I think about climate change on a daily, hourly basis. I admit that I struggle with a feeling of being overwhelmed. It can be hard to hold hope for a safe future for you and your siblings when I face the reality of climate change. Temperatures are climbing, with records broken almost monthly. Ice sheets are melting even faster than scientists expected. Sea level is rising, threatening our coastal cities and shorelines. Extreme weather events like severe drought and heavy storms are getting worse. Climate change threatens our health, broadly. It threatens almost every aspect of health and wellbeing that we can think of, at every level of society, in every place on earth. Even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels today, we will face major disruptions to the global food supply, to our habitable cities, to our air quality, to vector-borne diseases, and to our collective mental health. It is hard to bear the knowledge of what we are doing to ourselves. It is heavy. I feel heavy. I apologize for bringing that heaviness into your world.
I’ve struggled for many years with whether the right approach is a moderate one or a radical one. I have chosen a moderate approach to try to bring new stakeholders into the conversation and broaden the tent. By the time you read this, you may have an idea about whether this was the right approach or the wrong one. I apologize in advance for any inadequacies. It is, at least, an approach. So many people are doing so little. I am trying to get people to do more, to ask for more, to demand more.
I also apologize for not knowing how to do more on a personal level to stop climate change. There are limits to my dedication. I deeply enjoy the privileges of my American lifestyle, of being a mother to my three precious children. There are so many carbon-intensive things I do. I am unwilling to give up many of them – most of them. I am sorry for that, even though I know that these individual choices are not really the problem. It’s the large-scale systems that supply our energy. It’s the economic system that leaves long-term health and ecological costs completely out of the equation. But still, I feel guilt about the ways in which my choices also contribute to climate change.
But this is not just a letter of apology. I also am so, so grateful that you came into the world right now, and not a thousand years ago. So this is also a letter of thanks.
Our world, right now, is full of immense beauty, potential, and opportunity. You are someone who notices and appreciates the beauty in this world. We have shared so much beauty together since you were born: the tidal rhythms on the beach in Maine, the perfect quiet of snow-covered woods in West Virginia, blooming Mountain Laurel along the Appalachian Trail in New York, and even our spring flower bulbs emerging right here on our front lawn. I am grateful for your awe. It inspires me to work as hard as I can to make sure that you can continue to find awe, healing, and power in nature.
You are going to be such a fine adult. You will be a wonderful father, if you choose to do that in your life. You will be a problem solver, and an innovator. You will walk with kindness, the way you do now. I am grateful for your soul, for your creativity, for your empathy. All these are precious treasures that you have to offer the world. They will help. I thank you for being in this world right now, so that you can offer these gifts at a time of transition.
Until that time, I am doing all I know how to do to seize what is an unprecedented opportunity. With the right kind of global cooperation, and a tidal wave of political will, and a world of big-hearted people calling for change, we can usher in a thriving, just, and healthy era. I am doing what I can to seize upon this moment, even as our likelihood of success becomes slimmer and slimmer.
I imagine that you will continue to feel the stress and strains of climate change and pollution. I don’t know what your community, your country, or your world will look like when I am gone. It depends a lot on how quickly we will have managed the transition to a renewable energy economy, and how quickly we will have developed appropriate technological and moral responses to the grave impacts of our fossil fuel addiction. It also depends on the geological and atmospheric and oceanic feedback loops of our great Earth, which are so hard to predict.
Remember that you have so much to offer this altered world. Thank you for being you. I love you to the moon and back. Plus 22 kisses.