We’re getting ready to celebrate your first birthday. One year ago, I was worried. When I was almost 8 months pregnant, my care team told me that you were measuring small but they weren’t quite sure why. In those last weeks, we did extra monitoring to make sure you were getting everything you needed. During that time of waiting and watching, I felt helpless and scared. I kept telling your dad that I just wanted you to be ok.
You arrived in this beautiful world on Valentine’s Day and you were healthy, perfect, and so very loved. You share your birthday with your great aunt – my aunt and godmother – Ames. I’m sad you never had a chance to meet her. But I know she’s looking out for you, and I will do my part to help pass on her contagious joy, silliness, caring heart, and love of adventure and the outdoors.
I’m enormously grateful that after the late pregnancy scare, you were born healthy. But the thought that ran through my mind on a loop in those last weeks – “I just want them to be ok” – is still on my mind. Partly I’m learning that as a parent this thought never really goes away. But it’s more than that. You were born in the Anthropocene, and we’re starting to face the consequences of intervening in the world’s delicate natural balance.
The scientific consensus is that our climate is changing, it’s driven by human activity, and we have an ever-shortening window in which to act to avoid catastrophe. Scientists aren’t sugar-coating it. Even if we act to mitigate the damage we’ve already set into motion, we’re still looking at living on a more inhospitable planet in the future. In fact, we’re starting to experience this new global reality today – from the antipodean wildfires devastating Australia to the floods wreaking havoc here in Wisconsin. Those working on climate change are increasingly substituting terms like “climate crisis” and “climate emergency” in order to better capture the urgency of this global threat.
It’s not exactly a hopeful message. But, to paraphrase NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel, what we need is not hope, but courage. Courage is knowing we can’t totally fix the problem, but also that we can’t give up and run away from it. Courage is grieving, accepting that we can’t undo all of our mistakes and set things back how they used to be. Courage is acknowledging the reality that our children’s lives probably won’t look quite how we thought they would, while resolving to do everything in our power to make them as happy and healthy as possible.
So while I once again feel somewhat helpless against this juggernaut, I still just want you to be ok – and I want you to know that that’s what I’m going to dedicate my life to. Because you, your generation, the generations that come after, and the millions of species that are collateral damage of humankind’s myopic folly are all worth fighting for.
Your dad and I met through our grad program where we studied the environment, and global challenges like climate change. It’s a passion and sense of purpose that helped bring us together, and I’m proud of the life we’re working to build for our family and community. At our nonprofit jobs, he’s working to protect clean water, and I educate decision-makers and the public to drive climate action. We also run our organic CSA farm together. While our office jobs are building capacity and helping to drive large-scale, systemic change, our land stewardship on the farm represents a more tangible and immediate way to protect our natural resources and build community. We hope that raising you on the farm will also intimately expose you to nature, show you where food comes from and how to live with the seasons, and help you understand firsthand how the success or hardship of a vocation so intertwined with nature depends on our climate.
We also know there are many individual actions we can take. We already installed solar panels on the barn and a geothermal system in the house. We want to put up more solar panels, and when our 21-year old Camry finally dies we plan to replace it with an electric car. Flying, my biggest environmental vice, is a toughie. I don’t want to choose between showing you the world’s beauty and protecting it, or keep you from your family that lives in California. I’ll try to fly less and buy offsets, but continue to push for systemic changes that don’t force me into the guilty choice in the first place, like high-speed rail and technologies that enable carbon-free flying. I think the most important collective change is electing politicians that will fight climate change. We have a long way to go. I’ve donated and volunteered a bit in the past, but I need to up my game.
Maya, my love, I promise to be courageous. I promise that when I face a decision, I will think of how it will impact you and your future. I promise that I’ll also step outside my individual decisions and add my weight to the forces that shift culture and systems.
In one short year, you have already brought me immeasurable joy and opened my heart to a new kind of love. I want you to spread that joy and love into this beautiful world, and feel it returned.
In 2050, you’ll be almost the age I am now. It’s hard to picture what the world will be like then. Ideally, we’ll have long since shifted to a regenerative course. Because I don’t actually want you to be just ok. That feels like a pretty low-bar baseline. I want you to be better than ok. I want you to live in a world that gives you the opportunity to thrive. I promise to act with love and courage to help make that happen.