To My Grandchildren,
Rampant climate change is break’n my heart.
I am so, so sorry. My generation had a chance to stop global warming in its tracks. But, we didn’t succeed. Yet, we learned so much from our failures at trying (isn’t that always so?).
It’s my hope that the following will be helpful as you navigate your futures. These are the confessions of a climate activist:
Regret: Many in my generation, myself included, assumed for too long that the ‘important people’ would take real climate change action, and that all we had to do was cheer from the sidelines.
Regret: We miscast climate change as just another environmental issue that would be won by the usual marches, protests, and acts of disobedience. Our anger let us get carried away.
Regret: We tried to shock people into climate action with gloom and doom scenarios, but this mostly froze people like deer caught in headlights.
Regret: Many people feel helpless, trapped in a materialistic lifestyle with fossil fuel dependency that’s hard to shake off. We should have worked harder to avoid a ‘holier than thou’ impression.
Regret: It seems we did more lecturing than listening. We learned the hard way that listening is the secret for establishing common ground, ultimately leading to persuasion.
Regret: For too long our mantra was ‘just say no’ to fossil fuels and offer clean energy as the solution, but we failed to understand that the real road block lack of a pragmatic political solution.
Regret: I spent a lot of time, too much time, in ‘low octane’ greenwashing and ‘feel good’ climate activities. These buoyed my spirits but were piddling.
Regret: We anointed ourselves with empathy, which was a state of feeling. In hindsight we should have immersed ourselves in altruism, a state of action, by putting ourselves on the line.
Regret: We had a naive disregard for the opposition’s cleverness and staying power. There are a lot of really smart people who spend their time, as an intellectual game, debunking change and its causes.
Regret: Our climate movement is unruly and prone to factionalism. A variation of the old cliché seems to apply to us: everybody’s better idea is often the enemy of the commonly good idea.
Regret: We mistakenly assumed climate kumbaya would carry the day. In economies dominated by capitalism, using levers of capitalism against itself was the jujitsu move we should have made.
Regret: People subconsciously use different sets of moral values to inform their worldviews. We didn’t realize that persuasion was guaranteed to fail if it wasn’t aligned with others’ moral values.
Regret: The persuasive power of hard science is much more limited than we thought. The general public just ‘doesn’t get it’. Science sets the stage but doesn’t direct the play.
Regret: There is pervasive mistrust in government. I’ve lately learned that climate solutions which minimize government involvement get much wider political traction.
Regret: I have been too rich country centric, and not focused enough on the people and countries suffering from climate change’s onslaught and are helpless to do anything about it.
So, my dear sons and grandsons – and others of you who read this in your year 2050 – you’ve been ordained to live on a different Earth. I’m crestfallen. Your climate has been damaged though I’ve given it my best to prevent it, and will continue to do so. That we will belatedly prevail, I am certain.
As the Laureate once proclaimed, ‘Ah, but I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.’
I love you.