World leaders from more than 190 countries have convened in Paris during the first two weeks of December for the long-awaited United Nations Climate Change Conference. Will the governments of the world finally pass a binding global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming… or will they fail in this task?
Letters to the Future, a national project involving more than 40 alternative weeklies across the United States, set out to find activists, authors, artists, scientists and others willing to get creative and draft letters to future generations predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks—and what came after. Some participants were optimistic about what is to come; some not so much. We hereby present some of their visions of the future.
I had expected major demonstrations in Paris, but nothing like this.
I expected another show, like the last few climate summits: Well-dressed world leaders fly in from all over, give stirring speeches about bold action to save our beloved planet from climate chaos, then quietly head for the exits when the time comes to make binding commitments. But this time, the crowd refused to let them leave.
After 400,000 of us marched in New York in 2014, I had expected a million in Paris. And a million did show up, but that was just the beginning. The demonstrators self-organized into tens of thousands of Occupy-style discussions. A few members of each cluster volunteered to act as representatives for citizens of the rest of the world. A small farmer in Bangladesh, a slum dweller in Nairobi or a plantation worker in Indonesia would listen and speak out through their representative. They sent their music, as well, and the streets of Paris throbbed with the beats of a hundred cultures. For the first time ever, the Internet was fulfilling its promise of enabling a global community.
Everyone wanted to be there. The first million was joined by another million and another, until the city of Paris was immobilized. But Paris still could eat, thanks to spontaneous cooperation of the bakers and grocers and truckers and the crowds who let them pass. They delivered fresh breads and fruits to the delegates and politely informed them that they could leave after they came up with a workable plan to quit using fossil fuels by 2030 and create a carbon-neutral world by 2050. Millions of world citizens were asking why they gave their loyalty to an economic order that impoverished them while it destroyed their planet.
The world’s business leaders decided enough was enough. They knew that the world was transitioning to renewables anyway, just from market forces. They knew that pushing the transition through in 15 years instead of 50 would require putting a couple of trillion bucks on the table in the short term, but they’d get the money back from the growth in the global economy; and besides, it was better than having their mansions burned down by angry mobs. When push came to shove and capitalism itself was threatened, the rest of the corporate world threw the oil and coal companies under the bus.
You kids today have seen a couple of gasoline engines at the Old-Timers’ Car Club, but you don’t know all the wars we fought and the people we killed over that stuff. You haven’t read about how sick kids in Beijing used to get from the coal pollution, or how they ripped the tops off of mountains. You have no idea how hard my generation had to fight to save this world for you. And that’s as it should be. I am grateful—profoundly grateful—that you don’t know what your parents and grandparents did to the Earth Mother, before we came to our senses.
Everett is an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Georgia and a climate-change activist. Read more letters to the future here.
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