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Open Letter to a Newborn Child: Why You Were Born on a Burning Planet

I just had my first kid. In 12 or 15 years, they might ask what we were thinking, giving what we knew about climate change. I’ve written down my thoughts in a letter.

Nathaniel Flakin

May 30, 2022
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A young child stands in ankle deep water in front of a metal fence.

Dear [name redacted],

This letter is being published just a few days after you were born. If you are reading this, I expect you’re around 12 or 15 years old. I am going to pause for a minute to think about the wonder of all this…

Now, if you are at all like your parents, you probably worry about the state of the world you are growing up in. At the time of your birth, we are seeing heat waves, cold snaps, and floods, and cities covered in smoke from forest fires. CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is at 420 parts per million, while methane is also at a record high of 1,896 parts per billion. Polar bears are going extinct, along with millions of other species. A decade from now, things can only be much worse. 

You might wonder why you were born into such a world. Parents whose kids are 12 or 15 today tell us they are getting asked that question. Well, your parents thought about this for a long time. Years and years.

We asked friends in the climate movement how they decided to have kids on a burning planet. We never got a satisfactory answer. People who spent all day looking at hard numbers about climate change would suddenly jump into metaphysics: “Maybe things will work out, somehow,” they would say. “Maybe we can innovate our way out of this.”

No, that’s not how you put out a fire — sitting around and hoping that it might start raining.

We do not believe things will work out, somehow. We know that climate change is an inevitable result of the capitalist mode of production. We need immediate, radical changes to the entire world’s economic system. If things keep going like they are going, human civilization is doomed.

So how could we put a kid — how could we put you — into a doomed world? We often thought about not having kids. But ultimately, that would mean giving up. For us, deciding to not have kids out of despair would be a form of inter-generational suicide. We are pessimistic, but we are not ready to give up

It is a dysfunctional economic system — one that puts short-term profits above our very survival — that is driving humanity off a cliff. We think this economic system can be toppled. It will take an enormous push by working people all over the world. But we are convinced that this kind of revolution is not only necessary, but also possible. As capitalism creates ever-worse disasters, more and more people are going to join this fight.

Your parents were (and hopefully still are) climate activists. We can show you photos if you like — but you’ll probably find them embarrassing. Your mom helped dump 200 liters of fake blood in front of the Stock Exchange in New York City, to demand divestment from fossil fuels. We went out to meet 17-year-old Greta Thunberg (is she still around?) when she traveled across the Atlantic Ocean on a sailboat.

At that time, we joined 100,000 kids in Manhattan who went on strike demanding system change. That, more than anything else, is what gave us hope. We are going to fight alongside all those kids so that humanity still has a chance.

We are going to do everything we can to protect you. But we also know that there is no individual protection against the impending catastrophe — we are not going to start digging a bunker. We need to save everyone, or no one can be saved. We will do what we can to prepare you to join this fight, if that’s what you want.

You might think it’s not fair that you were born into a planet on fire. And it’s definitely not — you did not have any say in the matter. But we did not choose to be here either. We also opened our eyes in a world that was careening to disaster. We were just a little further away from the crisis than you are now.

We got to know this world, and the overwhelming challenges it faces, and we decided it is worth fighting for. There is too much beauty here — animals! music! exploration of the cosmos! — to give up in the face of capitalism’s destructive tendencies. Elon Musk (is he still around?) controls more of society’s resources than anyone — and the only goal he talks about is escaping the planet. We are not ready to surrender to these psychopathic billionaires willing to burn down everything so that they can be kings of the ashes.

We are going to fight for you, and for everyone else’s children. Maybe, by the time you’re reading this, you are going on school strikes or doing whatever protests kids your age are doing now. For the record, we don’t mind if you adopt more militant tactics. In this family — we can promise this now — you will never get in trouble for political protests.

We would have preferred, infinitely preferred, to bring you into a world without climate change. But we didn’t have that choice — no more than you did. We could only bring you into this world. And now you, just after your birth, are part of humanity’s struggle to end capitalism as quickly as possible. We are all part of that struggle, whether we want to be or not, even though your role in that struggle is up to you.

When capitalism was preparing a different kind of catastrophe, Leon Trotsky said that “salvation lies in merciless struggle.” That’s true today as well. The struggle against Musk, Bezos, and all the others will not be easy. But “it is possible, it can be done — therefore it must be done.”

We love you, and we’re happy to have you as a kid and a comrade.

Still feeling a sense of wonder at this…

Love,

Your Father

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Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French. He is on the autism spectrum.

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