All my relations

Geschrieben von Tom Hetherington am 27.04.2024

Dear future generations.

As you know in 2024 the planet crossed its red line. It was the first year the planet had a global annual average temperature 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. This is the failsafe line science said we must not cross in order to minimize catastrophic climate consequences. I will not explain the science in detail. You already know what is true because it has already happened. The point of this letter is to explain why we knew but did not act and to remember those that did.

Today, is my 73rd birthday, April 1, 2024. I am afraid of death, not just for me but for you. I see my body winding down. With luck I have another 10 years. Death is the logical conclusion of life. What can one do? I do not look forward to death, I love life. I am afraid for you. The science is clear we are crossing environmental tipping points, environmental/climate boundaries of no return.

I live in a time when environmental collapse seems inevitable. Increasing carbon and methane are heating the planet. For more than one hundred years we have been burning fossil fuels and we are exceeding irreversible yet predictable tipping points. Hotter atmosphere is melting tundra and glaciers frozen for thousands of years. This melting ice is causing sea levels to rise and releasing vast amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. This is not a fairytale, the Secretary General of the United Nations calls the situation “global boiling”. He has demanded immediate and comprehensive action to “end business as usual” and stop burning fossil fuels. We have lost so much already.

In response, National Governments have come up with a plan. The plan, even if fully implemented, will result in a 2.8 degree world by 2100. An inhabitable world of narrow bands around the oceans north and south of the 45th parallel and around the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. Billions will die and almost all ecosystems altered and destroyed. Of course, as residents in the future, you know this. This is the legacy of my generation. We put 90% of the excess carbon into the atmosphere since 1940. One thing is sure, you will never know the world I was born into.

This happened during our watch. We are responsible. Burning carbon provided my generation with a fantastic material lifestyle. Populations grew and enjoyed increased material wellbeing, education and improved health care. It was a great party that used millions of years of accumulated natural wealth in one or two generations. Natural wealth that belonged to you. We forgot the past and stole the present from the future.

One would think well educated and caring people would be concerned about this collapse and would demand immediate action. One would think governments would sound the alarm and tell the truth, mobilize people and put all nations on a war footing. Do everything imaginable to stop and reduce carbon and methane. This is not the case. Most people are unaware or unconcerned about the gravity of the situation. Corporate interests are working to maintain “business as usual” and are hiding the truth from us. Most people believe that business as usual can and must go on and some politicians are saying: “drill, baby, drill” and “the last barrel of oil sold will be from Alberta”. Ordinary people are not malicious but naive, they continue to enjoy the material benefits of their fossil fuel addictions without considering the cost. They ignore science and its implications.

The result is most ordinary people are doing nothing to push for system change. Few talk to their friends, demand action from politicians, take meaningful action or support people who do. For example, in my country, Canada, we are investing 40 billion dollars in a new fossil fuels that comes online on May 1. This is borrowed money requiring repayment from oil revenues. Canada has been called a “fossil fool” by the UN Secretary General. Meanwhile, the northern movement of insects, heat and drought are killing trees, melting permafrost and igniting forests. Which in turn puts more carbon into the atmosphere in what is called a feedback loop which will further increase temperatures. There are very many of these feedback loops and related tipping points. We can measure them and predict their trajectories. It is clear this is the worst crisis to ever confront humanity. It threats human survival.

The early signs of collapse are visible. It is like going to a doctor who says you have a stage 2 cancer, a potentially terminal illness and, without aggressive treatment, to expect a series of symptoms followed by death. We see these symptoms occurring everywhere, it is impossible to ignore them, yet we refuse treatment because we do not want to miss work. Stupid huh?

For at least twenty years, scientists have been sounding the alarm. Yet people, either out of self-interest or ignorance have not listened rather they have denied the problem. Choosing to put their hope in “magic” bullet solutions that maintain business as usual and have little chance of reducing carbon and methane. Few are open to needed system change. So, when they tell you they did not know, they are not being truthful. They knew but choose not to act. We have a saying in the movement, “action begins when hope stops.”

Of course, maybe something magical will happen. Jesus may come, we may be able to take 100 years of carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back in the ground. Maybe we can refreeze tundra and recreate glaciers?

I hope you are now saying “we fixed things, no need to worry, Tom, we got this.” I would love to be proven wrong. I do not believe Jesus is coming or that quick fixes are possible. ‘What you sow so shall you reap’ seems to be a more appropriate Bible story.

Perhaps it is like the frog who discovers their first hot spring. The water is warm and inviting and they enjoy the bath. However, the has never been in this situation before and does not know what to expect. So it floats around enjoying the pool until it falls asleep, boils and drowns. The difference is we do know what to expect but refuse to get off the water.

You may be asking, ”Hey Tom, you are old, you will die soon, so why should you care? It is the future’s problem.” As a Social Worker, I took an oath to protect children, to put their welfare first. I also know my forefathers stood up when called. They did their duty to protect their children. It is now my turn.

I have a mental health problem. It is called “climate anxiety”. It is a condition wherein fears about climate collapse create anxiety and depression. It is closely associated with emotional processes that people call grief. Grief has many stages that include denial, anger, resistance and acceptance. People move back and forth between these stages. The process is re-enforced by a process called solistasia. Solistasia occurs when people are reminded by events in the natural environment that climate change is real and they see evidence of its impacts in their everyday environment. They are retraumatized. They grieve the loss of their home while still living in it.

My climate anxiety, efforts to sound the alarm and to educate others have alienated many people I love. Most people have stopped reading my words and distanced from. When I have needed their support they have either ignored me or gotten mad and walked away. Some have refused to speak with me. Few have ever responded to my actual concerns or responded to my questions. It is sometimes easier to shoot the messenger than respond to the message. I wonder how many will even read this letter? One person noted, I would only want to know if I can do something about it. That said, a few have listened and provided support. I thank them for their love and understanding.

I see people loving their children and grandchildren, seemingly unaware of the future they are facing. It makes me angry. It is not their love I question, it is their failure to act. Believing what I believe, what else would they expect a loving person do but to act to protect their children?

Dear future, some of us fought for you. My radicalism started 6 years ago with the realization that the climate crisis was real. Since then I have done everything lawful to try to wake people up. I have witnessed many dedicated activists get arrested in non-violent direct actions. Not surprisingly, most of these resisters were young people. Young women afraid to have children. The least likely to resist and show support were old white men who seemed more concerned about investments and the price of gasoline than your future. They have shown little concern for the consequences of maintaining business as usual and believe that somehow business as usual can save the day. Such fools!

That said, people of all ages did join political action movements, sought careers working to address the issue and develop policy alternatives, fought to protect environments and ecosystems, tried to convince others to act, petitioned, wrote, sang, chanted, marched, blockaded, challenged investors and ran support groups. Some of us got arrested and some went to prison. Our efforts were largely ignored and unsupported by those with power. We were seen as troublemakers. People were too busy enjoying the party to be brought down by having to clean up the mess and the bill. They left it for you!

I am sorry, dear children. I am sorry for the ignorance, entitlement, narcissism and greed of my generation. Please remember that some of us tried, some of us stood up. Your remembrance of us is the only reward we can expect. My only regret is that I didn’t try hard enough and did not do more.

A song by Marcus Decker (arrested and imprisoned for 2 years and 7 months in a Just Stop Oil action).

If I had to rise up now.

If I had to rise up now,

I would do it for all children (change the word each time sung),

I would do it for all children,

Cause they deserve the best.

At least we tried …

Love and rage,

Tom Hetherington

Tom Hetherington lives in Vancouver and was supporting XR Berlin rebels and XR Drummers for six weeks this spring.