As with our struggles to eliminate police brutality, as with hate crimes, so it is with climate change – there are actually a lot of people out there who care.

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Joylette Portlock
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Dear X—, Dear A—,

My sons. Now 7 and 4 years old. My eyes just suddenly filled with tears, realizing the struggles that we face here in 2016, and my deepest hopes that your future is filled with a happiness that is strong enough to face the challenges you will certainly face. This is not going to be my best writing; it is hard to put what I am feeling into words.

I am supposed to be writing to you about climate change, and my work to stop it. As I write, however, I am listening to a presidential address about the worst mass shooting in American history, an act of hate against people for the way that they love. The shooting happened just before you, Daddy and I took to the streets, marching as allies in the Pride Parade here in Pittsburgh.

X, you spent the parade doing butterfly kicks, unabashedly (all the more impressive given your refusal to go to kung fu class for over a year), after first being so nervous about marching that you didn’t want to go to the parade at all. But I helped you through your fear. A, you were a really good sport, though the first smile I saw from you was near the end of the parade, when I could tell you were very tired. I scooped you into my arms and Daddy handed you a slice of pepperoni. Your sudden, sincere, surprised grin at the sight of the treat made me laugh out loud.

That day, we were part of an amazing community of happy, dancing, bubble-blowing, kazoo-playing people celebrating life. The few protesters were remarkable only by how extremely small they seemed in the face of so much love, Truly, the contrast made them, those unhappy few who came out just to rant into a bullhorn in the face of such happiness, seem silly, laughable. All I could think looking at them, was a confused, amused, “Can’t you see? Love wins.” I had no idea at the time that in Orlando, the similar anger of a different person had erupted earlier the same day with a weapon so much more devastating than a megaphone.

A loved one told me a little while ago, “You are a genuinely nice person.” Which kind of surprised me – “nice” may be accurate, but is not the first word that springs to mind when I think of myself… I responded that I just try to figure out where people are coming from and think of things from their perspective. And then it dawned on me that that kind of empathy is precisely what being genuinely nice is. It could even be a definition of love. The refusal to dehumanize others.

I think of what your life may be like, with brown skin, male, growing up in the U.S., as I watch police officers who should never have been trusted with guns shoot boys that look just like you, for no reason.

If being nice is refusing to dehumanize others, I think that hate is the opposite. We are at our worst when we fail to see others as valid humans, just as vital and valuable as ourselves. That is the most destructive act we can take, the root of most crimes, and, in the extreme, leading to the worst crimes.

Humans like to argue about whether and under what circumstances we will answer to any higher power, but there can be no denying that we the breathing, living, people here right now, we answer to each other… and we answer to you, all the humans who come after us. Who live in the world that we make. Who inhabit the house of which we built the foundation. Who laugh, and cry, and fear, and hurt, and love, here, once we are gone. You are the next links in the unbroken chain since the first people woke into self-awareness. We answer to you. It is unacceptable for that answer to be: that it is only us, who now live, that matter. That kind of selfishness, as far as I am concerned, is a form of hate.

And that is why I work so hard and so diligently for a transition away from the energy sources, land use, and other practices that are turning our atmosphere into an oven. Why I work to make this society a place worthy of respect and trust. A place where we rise to our challenges instead of sinking into self-destruction. A place that protects its future and values its children. All of its children. Because it is an act of love, to you and everyone who comes after this current generation of people. It is recognizing your rights and hopes and value as just as important as my own. I really could not live with myself if I let an act of injustice as big as leaving you a legacy of an unlivable climate happen and didn’t do everything I possibly could to stop it.

Do you know what gives me hope? The people who care. The community fighting for a better, more just world.

As with our struggles to eliminate police brutality, as with hate crimes, so it is with climate change – there are actually a lot of people out there who care. Seas of people who feel isolated, who do not see those around them making changes, who do not hear their representatives voicing appropriate levels of concern, silent — but who care, strongly, nonetheless. I know they exist because I talk to them. I try as hard as I can to connect them to information, connect them to actions they can take, connect them to each other. They are your preschool teacher, who I taught that cleaning out her car trunk would make a difference in her gas mileage. They are your Pop-pop, who I convinced to start recycling when I was not much older than you are now, and who, more than 25 years later, put solar panels on his house as a retiree… yes, it is a house that will probably be underwater in 2100. But, because of his actions, and mine, there may be millions of other houses that will not. And there are so many people across the country and world, fighting, outraged and insistent that climate catastrophe not be our legacy. Happy about the prospect of gifting you a better tomorrow.

It is true that there were several generations before us that started this without knowing what they were doing, and left us (the people here as I write) a foundation built on an unsustainable way of life. A foundation built in quicksand. But we know now what they did not know then, and we owe you better.

I will fight. I will do everything I have the power to do to free your lives from the mistakes of ours. That is what my love for you means. Hopefully, by the time you read this letter, we have had some success, lifted all our communities, safely transitioned to a sustainable tomorrow – and something redeeming comes from our struggle.

X, already so smart and so creative. A, so gentle, loving and thoughtful. My beautiful boys. May you know a world that loves you. A world that supports you. A world full of wonder. A world that helps you push through your fears, and rewards you for your efforts. A world that lets you be your fullest selves. A world… that is nice.

I love you both. More than anything.


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