A letter to my kids

(for the german version please scroll down)

To my beloved daughters!

Since you came into our lives, we have experienced the normal parental madness: stress, worries, doubts, much happiness, even more love. I expected all this.

What I didn’t expect was another feeling that has taken control since this past summer: fear. An overwhelming fear about your future has taken over all other feelings in the face of the climate crisis.

In 2050 you will be 36 and 32 years old. I don’t know how our earth and our country will look like by then. What will the summers be like for you? The city of Baltimore will probably be about 9° F warmer in the summer than during my own childhood.[1] What about the winters? Like all children, you love snow – and yet the question of whether your own children, my grandchildren, will ever be able to play in the snow seems rather unimportant in comparison to the serious consequences that the threatening climate catastrophe will bring.  

How often are you confronted with natural disasters like recent Hurricane Dorian?[2] Do heat waves endanger food safety not only in the global south, but also here? Has the number of worldwide refugees multiplied?  Are there already wars over water reserves and arable land? All this sounds apocalyptic, completely improbable and exaggerated, like climate hysteria and scaremongering. But after listening to the climate scientists of our time, I know: These scenarios are not only realistic, but already very probable within your lifetime.[3] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is certain that if we do not manage to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, then the climate will warm up by at least 4 degrees (around 7° F), very likely putting our civilization in a permanent state of catastrophe. And even if we are still the lucky ones, because we do not live where the impacts will feel the impacts will be the biggest, it will affect your life as well for sure.  

This truth – which I probably could have known for a long time, but only now have understood properly – is hard to accept. The reality of climate change is breaking my mother’s heart. I would like to repress it most of all, rather concentrate on the now and here with you. But that would be highly irresponsible as well as dangerous.

In 2050 you will be as old as I was when you were born. Will you want to have children yourselves – or is your own fear of the future too big? This thought makes me infinitely sad. Will you then accuse us of not having preserved the planet and handing it to you rather devasted? You would have every right to do so.

What will I say if you ask me why I allowed this to happen? I have no excuse. I flew more than 160,000 miles in my life, causing over 87.8 metric tons of CO2 from it alone, melting 263 square feet of Arctic ice. Even if I have purchased carbon offsets for most of the miles, even if my contribution to global warming may be small as part of the total, it cannot be denied. I cannot ask forgiveness for this. And yet I am infinitely sorry that I cannot offer you a better place to live and that I have helped to destroy this home.

Did I not know the consequences of my actions? Yes, of course. Kind of. But I did not take it seriously enough. I expected the costs to be far away. I didn’t see why I should abstain from something that everyone was doing. I thought it was all about the polar bears – what a shame, but still very far away – but not about us. I pushed this away and I didn’t listen.

But I promise that from now on I will do everything to save for you what is still to be saved. Air travel, meat, car trips, new clothes all the time – to be honest, I need very little of this for a good life. The only thing I truly need is the certainty that my kids will be fine.

However, we also let ourselves be lulled – by melodious climate agreements and many empty promises. After Paris 2015, I believed that everything was under control. The governments around the world would do everything they could to ensure that we wouldn’t exceed 1.5 degrees C, I thought. How infinitely naïve of me.

Thus, my fear, my grief, and my shame are mixed with another feeling: anger. A great, desperate anger at those who have the power to change something and yet do nothing. The politicians who sign agreements to lull us into safety and then do not act. They talk about „economic growth“, but they only mean the profit of a few, and about money even though the lives of billions of people are at stake. Anger at those who call scientific facts a hoax and lead us into a catastrophe. Anger especially at those who invested millions of dollars in campaigns to fool humanity for their own profit[4] and at “scientists” who get paid by oil companies[5].  

And that is why I will fight from now on – against all those who want to steal your future by advancing, allowing, or ignoring the destruction of the earth as if there was no tomorrow. Even though fighting is exhausting and even though “the certainty of inevitability seems comforting”[6]: I believe that we can still avert the catastrophe – anything else would be cynical.[7] I hope that more parents around the world will do the same – because then – and only then – we may have a chance to secure our kids’ future

In 2040 you will be 26 and 22 years old. By then we must be emission-free.[8] It sounds impossible and at the same time there is no alternative. I hope every day that on that New Year’s Eve, we will sit together and say: „We did it“.

Until then I will scream as loud as I can. The fear in my mother’s heart has turned me into a fighter and if necessary, even into a rebel.

In love

More Information about Climate Change and discussion about its impacts can be found here:

Global Weirding with Katherine Hayhoe https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi6RkdaEqgRVKi3AzidF4ow

Real Climate: a blog of several accomplished climate scientists http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/category/extras/contributor-bios/

Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis: Read scientific analysis on Arctic sea ice conditions, with partial support from NASA: https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/category/daily-image/

Union of Concerned Scientists: https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/fight-misinformation/infographic-global-warming-climate-science-vs-fossil-fuel-fiction

Essay by Bill McKibben: https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/money-is-the-oxygen-on-which-the-fire-of-global-warming-burns


[1] Interactive map of the ETH Zurich under https://crowtherlab.pageflow.io/cities-of-the-future-visualizing-climate-change-to-inspire-action#213121

[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-un-ipcc-report-today-oceans-warming-rising-faster-tipping-points-severe-weather-2019-09-25/

[3] Will Steffen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzQsjuzr3_M&feature=youtu.be

[4] Like the Brothers Charles and David Koch in order to maintain the growing of their fortune: https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/kochland-examines-how-the-koch-brothers-made-their-fortune-and-the-influence-it-bought; or ExxonMobile https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/23/climate/exxon-global-warming-science-study.html

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2016/jan/07/era-of-climate-science-denial-is-not-over-study-finds; for example those who get paid by the Heartland Institute: https://www.heartland.org/about-us/who-we-are/ivar-giaever and are easily to disprove: https://skepticalscience.com/ivar-giaever-nobel-physicist-climate-pseudoscientist.html

[6] https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/hot-planet/shut-up-franzen/

[7] And lots of scientists believe that too – as long as we start acting now! https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/hot-planet/shut-up-franzen/

[8] Will Steffen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzQsjuzr3_M&feature=youtu.be or https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252

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