What does our future hold, or more selfishly, what does my future hold, specifically for a sixteen-year old? I have my own dreams and ambitions about who I want to become and I know I can be beholden to myself to work hard to achieve that. But the world I live in, will it continue to allow me to be the best I can be and to be who I want to be? I have no doubt and no illusion that life is full of surprises and disruptions, some good and some bad. I think of all the Syrian and African refugee children whose lives are in limbo for who-knows how long before they miss their precious childhood and adolescence, to be young, hopeful and idealistic like myself, but to have their dreams and ambitions stifled, delayed, or worse, banished forever. The obvious primary reason may be caused by human-induced conflicts. But the hidden secondary reason may have been caused by climate change-induced droughts and hardship.
Far away from the war and conflict zones, I am living in the United States, the richest country with the most billionaires in the world. In fact, Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, derives his wealth from Microsoft, an American technology company. But a lot of us youngsters aspire to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, because he became a billionaire at age 23. How much cooler can that be?
So, how do I become the next Mark Zuckerberg or just someone who wants to have a normal, decent and productive life ahead of me? I can study hard, get into a good college, learn something useful that will land me a good job, possibly in the tech sector, and I should naturally get there. Right? Wrong. All the things that I have already mentioned may be within my control. However, there are many things that are beyond my control. Remember the surprises and disruptions in life, especially the nasty ones?
Climate change is definitely one of the nastiest and it is happening, right now. It is already robbing millions of people around the world the chance to lead a normal, decent and productive life. Even in our American protective cocoon, you and I, rich or poor alike, are not safe and immune from a disruptive, tricky and undecided future, because climate change is “uniquely global, uniquely long-term, uniquely irreversible, and uniquely uncertain−certainly unique in the combination of all four” as described in the 2015 book, Climate Shock, written by Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman, and it is not going away by itself. You and I, as well as each individual, can choose to ignore this harsh reality and let other people deal with it, or try to join others to work out the best ways to confront and tackle it.
Say, you choose to ignore it and continue with your own life as usual, working hard and chasing your own dream, and one day in the future, you become a tech billionaire, like Mark Zuckerberg. You decide to build yourself and your family a climate-proof house, fully solar-powered, off the grid, perched on high ground and with your own water well tapping into an aquifer. You think you are all set for the potential climate disruptions. With all the money in the world, do you think you can protect you and your loved ones from the raging wildfires that are burning longer and bigger because of climate change? With all the money in the world, do you think you can protect you and your loved ones from any single insect bite that can potentially carry a debilitating if not deadly virus like Zika, which is spreading far and wide because of climate change? With all the money in the world, do you think you can protect you and your loved ones from shortages of nutritious staple food crops that are failing at an increasing rate because of climate change? With all the money in the world, do you think you can protect you and your loved ones from all the extreme climate events and their disastrous risks to life and safety in all the random places because of climate change? With all the money in the world, do you think you can devote your whole life on your own forever just to protect you and your loved ones because of climate change?
I don’t think so. We all have our own set of priorities and we get to decide how to best allocate our own resources to deal with them. As young people, unburdened by career and life’s other obligations yet, we have a lot of latitude to pick our own path forward. We should definitely keep our dreams alive, including becoming a tech billionaire, because that is what we are living for. However, the realization of our dreams is highly dependent on the stability or predictability at least, of the future within our lifetime, which has been irrevocably compromised for decades or centuries to come because of climate change.
If teenagers can spare nine hours a day consuming digital media, we can spare some time thinking about or doing something about climate change, while pursuing to become the next Mark Zuckerberg. If you do become the next Mark Zuckerberg, you may wish a portion of the collective millions of hours that people are spending on Facebook to be spent instead on dealing with the climate change problems, so that you don’t have to devote your whole life on your own forever just to protect you and your loved ones because of climate change.
I have nothing against social media or people doing stuff that they like and enjoy. In fact, technology may possibly be our saving grace after all. Again, we just have to set our priorities straight. If our house is catching fire right this very moment, our priority should be putting our safety first and allocating the time and attention to put out the fire or get out of the fire danger, instead of finding the most ferocious flames as a backdrop for our phenomenal selfie.
Our Earth has already caught on fire. Do you choose to allocate your time and attention to put out the fire or get out of the fire danger, or do you choose to diddle around with your phenomenal selfie? That is why I choose NOT to ignore climate change. That is why I choose to join others to work out the best ways to confront and tackle climate change. A disruptive, tricky and undecided future may be awaiting us, but it is not set in stone and I am not waiting to allow it to stifle, delay, or ever banish any dreams and ambitions of myself, of all other children around the world, and of the offspring of my entire generation. I am going to take the matters in my own hands and decide my future for myself. Please join me and make the Nature Order Zociety a reality and seriously tackle climate change!
Let us imagine what if…