Mark Stemen
Chico, California, United States

I am sorry I have been sorry

“My great, great grandmother came to this country with great hope and confidence in the future. That is where we part.”

I am sorry.

As I sit here early in the morning and think about my great, great-granddaughter, living in a climate-changed world, I am sorry is the main thought that keeps coming to mind.

I am writing this letter to you for a newspaper project, but it is not remarkable for me to think so far ahead in time because, as a historian, I have made a life of thinking far into the past. My grandmother often told me of her grandmother. I was always struck at how different my life is from hers, and I wonder how different your life will be from mine. My great, great grandmother came to this country with great hope and confidence in the future. That is where we part. I know too much about the devastating effects of climate change.

I am sorry.

I am writing in advance of the Paris Climate-talks, round twenty-one to be exact. The talks hope to produce binding CO2 reduction commitments between countries, but I know that those “commitments” are really between people, and I don’t see the people around me committing to reducing their CO2 emissions. The City of Chico, where I live, committed to reducing their GHG production in 2008 and in the time since residents have increased their energy use by 20%.

I know you don’t want to hear about all the petty issues like plastic bag bans that kept us from making meaningful change. You don’t care that the City was broke and didn’t have the staff to see that we met our “commitments.” You can see from your vantage point that we did nothing to advert your future simply because it was easier for us to not think about it, to not think about you. That you won’t care about any of my excuses makes it hard to write this letter.

Realizing that I am glad that I do not have to see this happen to you makes me feel even worse, but thinking about you has changed me in one way, and maybe that was the point of this exercise. I am going to stop acting in ways that make me feel sorry. I am going to act and speak in ways that matter, no matter who I have to apologize to, and maybe some of my great-grandmother’s hope will return.