Global climate Armageddon bears down with increasing intensity year after year while misanthropic leaders remain firmly entrenched in their hegemony of wealth, power and willful ignorance. This seems like a grim scenario from which the only outcome will be a Hollywood disaster-like epic. But history has seen its share of disasters and impending doom; the human race has survived to this point to not only propagate but thrive on the failures of the past in some instances. To those living in developed nations in the 21st century, “having a bad day” usually means poor Wi-Fi connection, low 4G data, your name was misspelled on the morning latte or Facebook announced yet another data breach. If this seems as if I’m trivializing the perceived challenges and end-of-the-world scenarios that have afflicted my generation and the ‘Millennials’ that have followed it, I am.
Early in the 1980’s I recall (somewhat) gathering around a single television in my grade school’s auditorium to watch as President Ronald Regan was shot while walking down a street by John Hinckley. I also recall sitting in that same auditorium when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch, claiming the lives of all of the astronauts aboard. With ambivalent reluctance I watched friends enlist after high school graduation to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the first Gulf War, then again when the second Gulf War was declared. The Oklahoma Federal Building bombing, Unabomber scare, Columbine Colorado school shooting, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Las Vegas concert shooting: all of these were not events that our parents’ generations experienced as we did at that stage in our lives. The most significant tragedy that struck my young generation were the terrorist attacks at the Pentagon, World Trade Centers and (failed) U.S. Treasury on September 11, 2001. These were terrible and life-changing events to be sure, but the worst the world has had to offer? Hardly.
I was born in 1973 in Saigon, Vietnam following a decade of turmoil both in the United States and abroad. This decade and the war that defined it capped more than half a century of global conflict, suffering and some of the most adverse conditions our nation, and the world at large, had ever witnessed. World War I marked the first time that all of the planet’s superpowers engaged in global conflict. The Great Depression of the 1930’s began in the U.S. but affected countries on all continents and made possible the rise of the Nazi and Fascist states that became Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. The result was the second World War or “war to end all wars” culminating in the development and use of the first atomic weapon in conventional warfare. The 1950’s saw an escalation of the Cold War as Russia and the United States amassed huge nuclear arsenals. Korea became a pawn in this struggle which resulted in civil/international war and eventually divided it into a north and south sovereignty. The next country that would fall victim to the global “cold war” showdown would be an unheard of country in southeast Asia that would eventually produce orphans like myself and thousands of others.
Unlike the two World Wars and the Korean War, Vietnam stands alone in its tragic legacy not only for America, but for the survivors of a country. One that remained in tatters after its betrayal by a government which scarcely less than a decade previous had vowed to “defeat the forces of communism in the name of democracy”. Following it’s bloody and secretive inception, the war spanned more than a decade claiming more American lives lost since World War II and an estimated 2 million Vietnamese civilians. Along with the taxing loss of life reported daily, the war struck a divisive chord among American youth who seized on the moment to resist the traditions and norms under which they had been raised: a cultural revolution was born. African-American citizens recognized their opportunity to address scars of inequality dating to before the American Civil War. Opinion of the U.S. government for the first time expressed increasing dissent throughout generational and cultural demographics. These issues not only took the forefront of public discourse, but bore the promise of true change; change that does not come easy. The Vietnam War brought to light the controversial nature of the military draft. African-Americans since the 1950’s had been addressing centuries-old grievances of inequality and Jim Crow laws which sought to oppress them despite the abolition of slavery. Women saw this as the time to push for the right to vote as well as establish a movement of feminism that would not only define individuality but seek equality among their male peers in the voting booth and eventually the workplace.
All of this did not come without a cost, and at the end of the 1960’s the United States closed a bloody decade of war, civil rights clashes, church bombings, assassinations and a widening gulf between young and old ideologies. American icons John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and many other civil rights leaders had been slain. College campuses across the nation had been turned into battlefields between students and peace officers. The nation had walked to the brink of war with Russia during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The following decade, Richard M. Nixon would be forced to resign under the threat of possible impeachment and public distrust of the government was at an all time high. Robert Kennedy Jr. was killed following a campaign stop in California and public resent for the raging arms race was reaching a fevered pitch. For our parents’ generation, the oceans weren’t rising and the land burned for different reason, but the end of the world truly seemed imminent at times.
I received a letter from my aunt not too long ago and I replied with a letter in kind. It wasn’t the sort of warm and cordial communication that you might usually establish with a distant relative, but more of a serious and needed jolt of reality. She expressed her disappointment with the state of the country and world, and lamented her lack of energy to do much to change things anymore. This is a woman who is more than 80 years old and has marched in civil rights and ERA movements, antiwar protests and nuclear arms demonstrations alongside my parents. The correspondence gave me pause to reflect on my own life and the world that we have inherited from our elders. Is it a better world than the one they inherited from theirs? Absolutely. Many of them, including my aunt and parents, were born closely following the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II. Their lifetimes have witnessed the events that I have just described above and the dawn of the age of technology. Wash basins have been replaced by intelligent wash machines, rotary-dial phones by smartphones, typewriters by laptops and so on. Our parents’ generations succeeded because they had no choice but to do so. Our generations may hesitate because it doesn’t know the true shortcomings of failure, and may fear the reality of that prospect. This is not an excuse and cannot become a legacy. Millennials already bear the ignominy of acting the spoiled, misinformed brats of the 21st century. A reputation they desperately hope to shed, and must, if there is to be true improvement to pass to the next generations that succeed us.
It has becoming alarmingly clear to many that climate change is affecting the way we live and that it is also changing our perceptions of ‘normal’ and ‘average’ weather patterns season to season. The fact that in the U.S. an increasing effort to politicize it has driven citizens on both sides of the political spectrum farther apart does not change the fact that each year, more powerful storms lash our shores, dispossess thousands from homes and communities and ruin lives. Contrasted with the fearsome and destructive longevity of wildfires and the damage they cause, there exists the cruel dichotomy of half the world watching while one or the other burns or drowns. We can’t afford to allow political and corporate agendas to define the future of our race’s well being. Realizing that the wealthy and powerful behave with only their own best interests at stake is the first step towards opposing the oligarchy of power that oppresses so many societies and nations throughout the world. To be sure, hard line conservatives will swear that so much of the things around us can be linked to liberal politics and leadership while they bail out their basements or hose their houses down ahead of an advancing fire line. But regardless of theirs or anyone else’s political allegiance, pointing a finger of blame won’t stop the floods or stoke the fires.
The majority of the world’s population agrees that climate change is not only real but the greatest threat to humanity at this moment in time. Additionally, the majority of the world’s population supports the push for industrialized nation’s transition to green energy sources sooner than later. So why is this issue constantly marginalized and questioned in the face of report after report and weather events that reinforce the reality of the world’s condition? In the United States its as simple as red and blue. There’s no secret to the fact that the President himself and most of his conservative constituents insist on either denying the threat of climate change or outright questioning the science behind it as well as the motives behind scientists. It’s not as if scientists have a higher precedent to seek their own agendas than individuals and groups associated with oil, coal, logging, automobiles or industry relying heavily on emissions regulation. Whenever profit is on the line, the shortest path to huge gains are prioritized over the well-being of others and the environment. By continually rolling back regulations and measures put into place to cut down carbon emissions and reduce their impact, the Trump administration is aiding companies by reducing their costs and responsibilities to assure a cleaner, less impacted environment.
The fact that climate change is a woefully inadequate subject addressed by mainstream media and press outlets also plays into the hands of deniers. It is bad enough that the administration has their own state-media styled outlets in Fox News, Breitbart, Info Wars and the like, but for mainstream sources to essentially stay mum on the issue of climate change’s impact amounts to a huge disservice for both the plight of science and the case that needs to be made to the public at large. This is a significant issue enough that a group of activists has been formed to put more pressure on the media to acknowledge and credit climate change with events and effects of what is happening all around the world. EndClimateSilence.org hopes to increase conversations about human activity and its impact to our environment in a fashion that bring this important topic to the forefront. There is ample evidence that not only is it being ignored, but it suffers a disparity of mention in dialogue concerning political issues and the viability of candidates who either deny or support this scientific evidence. Putting pressure on these media outlets and groups reinforcing climate change denial is a big first step in achieving the goal of helping establish climate as an everyday topic of conversation in society and culture.
Lastly, as with any disparity in understanding, the remedy to ignorance is knowledge. The more anyone knows concerning a given topic, the less apprehension and misinformation on the subject is likely to occur. When people are encouraged to engage a matter in order to evaluate causes and solutions, they become more intellectually and emotionally invested in the matter and it is much more likely that it will result in a positive impact towards understanding the issue and working towards a solution. Certainly the efforts of a single individual are limited in impact, but the challenges of the past, those faced by our parents generations and of those before them weren’t overcome by inaction, apathy or fear. Their generations taught us that by digging in their heels and applying themselves, the challenges which sometimes seemed insurmountable were brought to manageable terms. With history in context, American society has overcome many obstacles on the way to providing much more equal and habitable norms and customs for its citizens. If this is to be this generation’s watershed moment, then to be sure it must be taken seriously for the sake of future generations. It is our obligation to do as those who did before us, and leave behind a better situation from which to pursue the same opportunities that we enjoy for ourselves.