Letter to Descendants
For the generation that will have to continue the fight:
I know how much it hurts to feel like you’ve been stripped of your youth, to be left in the midst of an endless wave of global crises when you were told that you would be experiencing your “golden years”. I know how angry you must feel when you look at the lack of action taken by the previous generations (my own included) that led to the lack of global wellbeing in the world today. I know all too well how frustrating it is to live in a world full of systems that are so deeply entrenched in corruption that it seems impossible to ever see real change. I also know how it feels to genuinely have no idea as to whether or not you will even have a future. The thought is terrifying in the least, and it leaves you with little hope. In my generation, we grew up in a world that was already in a culture war between the East and West, and many of us were taught to prioritize capital and economic gain over human wellbeing.
However, some of us denounced these capitalist values, and decided to listen to a different perspective instead. We heard from indigenous scientists, such as Robin Kimmerer, that language shapes our culture, and “English encodes human exceptionalism, which privileges the needs and wants of humans above all others and understands us as detached from the commonwealth of life”, rather than being in a communal relationship with it. We realized that, as existential as it may make us feel, authors like Bayo Akomolafe were perhaps correct when commenting on how humans don’t understand “that we are too transient, that we are not the fulcrum upon which the universe is balanced, and that the coddling and pampering of a historical inflection in the neutral rhythm of things must now give way to foreclosure”.
These perspectives pushed my generation to reconcile that humanity is not invincible nor eternal and that we too will one day fade out like the many species we forced into extinction. In the middle of a global pandemic, we realized that we were seeing the manifestations of climate change and social injustice materialize before us, as each month seemed to bring a new national or global crisis. In the same year of 2020, the year I write this letter, we saw a world physically set ablaze, from the United States to Brazil, to Australia. Media reports told us that we had yet again reached record highs of greenhouse gas emissions, temperature increases, and sea-level rise. We learned that more pandemics would be likely and that there was already a growing number of climate refugees who were forced to leave their homes. We learned that more species were going extinct than ever before and that our governments didn’t know how to prevent our own extinction. Essentially, we learned that we were living through an unprecedented era and that many of our leaders knew about the effects that climate change, mass industrialization, and pollution would have on us, but they chose to listen to their own desires for personal gain instead.
If your world is anything like what I expect it to be, then you will likely be living through much worse than what I have already experienced. I am told that within the next 80 years that there will be billions of global climate refugees, temperatures that cannot sustain human life, disgusting levels of income inequality, and very little time to focus on anything except your immediate survival. If we continue on our current trajectory, I imagine that your world will look and feel utterly barren. Without a temperate climate, healthy pollinators, or stable sea levels, what is left for you? Are there farms, forests, and flora, or has the lack of pollinators made your world devoid of diverse plants and food? I would imagine that the high temperatures and draughts would only contribute to this scarcity further, causing whatever flora and fauna left to be in a state of chronic stress and dehydration. If this is the case, does your food not come from the natural world that your ancestors loved? Is it solely produced in colorless, sterile labs instead? This would mean that you’ve never had the chance to grow your own food, nor have you been able to hike your favorite mountain in Maine and be greeted by fresh, wild blueberries in the summer without fail. I want you to feel comforted and supported by nature in the ways that I have, to feel nurtured by a quiet forest or field when you’re hurting, and to celebrate the beautiful colors, textures, sounds, and scents when you’re full of joy.
I think about you, all of your loved ones, and all the strangers that you have met while enduring the future every day. I find myself picturing your world, trying not to let myself fall into an anxious spiral at the thought of the potential outcomes. Will you be able to explore the outdoors as a child as I did, or will you be forced to take shelter inside due to a dangerously hot climate and atmosphere full of toxic pollutants that your delicate lungs can’t handle? Will there still be opportunities to celebrate with your friends, family, and community, or will you have to stay isolated from each other in order to avoid the spread of rapidly mutating diseases? Will you have access to clean water and nutritious food, or will you be fighting against others for food rations, overwhelmed with thirst and starvation? Will you be able to grow old, look back on your life, and feel content about the reality that you lived and the lives you were able to help? Or did nature feel so betrayed by us that she finally decided to retaliate by washing, burning, and extracting the majority, if not all of us from her skin? If this is the world that you are forced to endure because of the mistakes of your ancestors, then you deserve to feel angry. You deserve to feel disappointed, disgusted and enraged by the generational shortcomings of those that were supposed to protect you. I understand if you choose to curse us for our obsession with endless economic growth because it was at the expense of your freedom. Above all, you deserve a world in which you can enjoy the precious gift that is your conscious existence, rather than fighting for it every day. If this is the world that you must inherit from my generation, then we have failed not only you but our entire human race.
However, I hope that isn’t your world.
I hope that my generation didn’t fail you and that we took action and decided to put in the work that was necessary to preserve life instead, giving you and all other living things a chance to pursue existence as long as possible. I hope that we adapted and overcame the challenges and that you will carry on the legacy of my generation and all of your human and non-human ancestors, spreading life and joy into those around you. I hope that you can play soccer in the
summer and feel how refreshing it is to drink ice-cold water after playing a scrimmage. I hope you get to hike your favorite mountains and eat wild blueberries at the summit until your tongue and the tips of your fingers turn purple. I hope that you, and all living things, get to live in a world that is infinitely more just, peaceful, and loving than the one I know. I hope that these are your circumstances, but even if my generation found a way to make our world more just, liveable, and equitable, I know that there will always be injustices to fight against. So, whether you’re living in a world torn apart by famine, poverty, and natural disaster, or our people learned how to view environmental, social, and economic injustice as interrelated problems that must be solved in order to preserve the existence of all beings, I’m offering you these parting words to carry into your future:
Firstly, do not give up. Because if you’re still around to read this, that means there is still hope. As long as there are still people, other living beings, and a will to preserve life, then there is a potential to pursue a better outcome. Alex Steffen, an inspiring futurist, tells us that “we can’t build what we can’t imagine”, so we have to not only be hopeful but also embrace our wild minds (thank you, Paul Wapner) in order to conceptualize the possibility of a future that is equal and just. Having hope for the future and combating the aggressive influx of hopeless media is a radical act in a society that denounces hope.
Secondly, it is through gratitude that we can garner enough strength to accept the pain. My generation is flawed in the sense that we are terrified of negative feelings. We would rather ignore and deny the unjust realities that we face––the wildfires, the death and disease, the poverty and pain––instead of facing it head-on. In my opinion, we cannot move past our trauma until we address it, and if we keep ignoring our potential fate, then we will certainly fall prey to it. I find comfort in Susie Orbach’s words, as she claims that“to come into knowing is to come into sorrow”. While it sounds dismal, we can reframe this seemingly pessimistic perspective into one of hope; in order to preserve life, we must know, and if we know, we must feel. Thus, acknowledging the pain and accepting the reality of the situation is an essential step in the process of healing ourselves and our earth. Orbach tells my generation that “acknowledging our
feelings––to ourselves, to one another–– makes us more robust”, because accepting our shared pain helps us “build a movement that can handle the horrors we are facing, without the secondary issue of denial”.
Lastly, you possess immense power. I am so, so proud of your strength and ability to adapt to a world that is so different from anything our race has ever known. You and your generation are trailblazers, rebels, survivors, and absolute badasses. On the behalf of those who came before you, I’m sorry for the potential atrocities that we let you inherit. However, many of us fought and fought hard against injustice––so on the behalf of us, the trailblazers of the past, I must also urge you to simultaneously have gratitude for the work that we put into this life while learning from our mistakes. We reside in your genetic makeup and your collective conscience––and our will to live, our good deeds, and our furious passion are the inner gifts that will help propel you forward.
Akomolafe, Bayo. (2020). “What Climate Collapse Asks of Us.” https://bayoakomolafe.net/project/what-climate-collapse-asks-of-us/
Falk, Richard. (2014). “State Sovereignty Endangers the Planet.” in Global Environmental Politics,
S. Nicholson and P. Wapner, eds. (New York - Routledge). p. 144-149.
Kimmerer, Robin Wall. (2019). “Speaking of Nature.” Orion.
Orbach, Susie. (2020). “Climate Sorrow.” in This is Not a Drill (New York- Penguin). p. 65-68.
Steffen, Alex. (2019). “How to Be Young in a Climate Emergency”
Wapner, Paul. (2003). “Ecological Thinking: Studying Global Environmental Politics with a Wild Mind and a Mindful Heart.” in Encountering Global Environmental Politics, Michael Maniates, ed. (Lanham, MD - Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), p. 17-33.