I don’t know you. But I know some of the paths you walk: You’re a parent concerned about your children; you’re a child concerned about her dad; and sometimes what you wish for one of them conflicts with what the other wants for you. I’ve walked that tightrope myself.
My daughter Lily is the light of my life. I knew that my mother, who I loved but with whom I sometimes clashed, adored her. So a few years back when my mom voted to ban gay marriage, it was painful; it took time and more than one very hard conversation for her to understand how her vote made families like her own granddaughter’s less safe. When she got a second chance to vote against gay marriage just a few years later—she couldn’t.
This year, when copies started circulating of a potential executive order which would have allowed discrimination in the guise of religious freedom, I was deeply grateful that you and Jared intervened, making whatever case it took for your dad to keep it off the table.
I can well imagine the experience of having that conversation. My mom and your dad were high-schoolers at the same time; though age doesn’t determine one’s attitude toward equality, it certainly informs it. And our folks were raised in an era before the average parent would have dreamed of telling their kids that “love is love is love.” Thank you for helping your dad be more a part of our time.
I understand that you and Jared are trying to lead another conversation that our parents couldn’t have predicted: the one about climate change. My mom was torn about this.
On one hand, she seemed to believe the news reports she was reading; but she also felt that God would just solve it in the end. Your dad seems similarly conflicted, though for economic instead of religious reasons. And here is where I’m asking for your help: Please, for all our kids, keep talking to him, keep making him see.
For my mom, the most compelling arguments about any subject were personal ones. For instance, she was OK with “gays” in general not having full marriage equality or civil rights, but when it came to her granddaughter, she didn’t want Lily to be hurt by such limits on her dads; she just wanted Lily to be happy. Maybe you can personalize your climate discussions with your dad by reminding him what’s at stake—and I don’t mean the whole planet, a concept which would be hard to take in, or even the White House, which can only be his home for eight years. Rather, remind him of three more immediately tangible concerns: Arabella, Joseph, and Theo.
Your dad probably already knows that for hundred of millions of people globally, two degrees will affect access to food and water. But, if he is like my mom was, the bigger the scope means the greater the remove, so maybe start smaller. Focus on what matters to your kids: the things they love, the places you take them, the experiences that shape their lives.
I’ve read that Arabella likes strawberries (which you grow at home) especially in “pink” ice cream. If earth’s temperature warms by two degrees, as pretty much every credible scientist now sees as unavoidable (and some think is too optimistic at this point), there will a much shorter farming season in the reduced number of places where they are still able to grow.
California, the biggest US producer, may see harvests fall by 40 percent, and what remains will be of decreasing quality. England, which foresees higher berry rot and smaller yield, is so concerned about this that its scientists are pre-emptively trying to engineer new strawberries altogether. That’s just one example—and a very small one—of what can happen.
Hawaii, your last vacation destination as a family before inauguration, will look very different when the temperature rises by those two degrees: All the famed resort-lined beaches could be erased, moving the shoreline dramatically inward, even as the islands battle flooding and species loss. Aspen, where your kids learn to ski with their cousins, is already on the cusp of change. Scientists predict that a two-degree rise will limit Aspen’s snow cover, cause dust build-up on the peaks, kill off the trees for which the region is named, and increase the risk of devastating wildfires.
For me and Lily, our Aspen is a little island off the coast of Maine. We go there for a week every summer, sharing a house with another family and reveling in the calm of a place you can’t even drive to.
You park your car in the woods, take a skiff over, and settle in for lazy days with the kids safely roaming about as they look for crabs or build fairy houses. With climate-change-induced sea level rise, the most modest estimate suggests that the island’s will be under water by 2050; by the median estimate, the houses around the perimeter will be gone; by the most extreme estimates, the island will disappear below the surface, an obstacle ships steer around on the way to the new coast of Maine.
It will join a fast-growing roster of Atlantises lost. Just think of places you’ve been with Jared—Miami, Belize, London. If things go forward unchecked, those places could be largely underwater too, wrecks sunken by the missed opportunities of parents like you and me. Now imagine not just visiting but living in those places—or in a country like Bangladesh, expected to lose 17% of its land. Imagine your family staring down the barrel of such loss.
That’s why I try to do my part, keeping a small carbon footprint, writing about the topic, and sending this letter to you—I think you have a chance to get far more done than I can.
That’s also why this column is not some put-on or satire. It’s a real letter from one parent to another.
Though the election yielded a lot of division—which I admit I sometimes contributed to—I think the best thing Americans can do for each other (and the planet) is to acknowledge where we connect and what we have in common. I believe you and I share some important values that will make our kids’ lives better.
We’re both so lucky to have children and it’s our responsibility to care for them. I hope Arabella, Joseph, Theo, and Lily get to enjoy the best world you and I can make together.