“I have faith in the land. I have faith in people. I know promises made by politicians only have meaning when the people make them have meaning.”
Dear Future Montanans,
I have asked that you not open this note until 2115. There is a place I want you to go to read this letter, the place where I wrote it. It is a river valley in southeast Montana that thousands of people fought to protect from a massive coal mine in my time. We won. For centuries before me people cherished and protected this land you are sitting on and I have no doubt they are still doing so in your time. I know this because people will always come for what is underneath the ground in the Tongue River country. Our fights do not have an end; they are passed down from one generation to the next.
Your Montana, no doubt, is a much different place than my Montana. Although you are a hundred years and thousands of miles away from the 2015 Paris climate summit, what happened there was consequential to your life. The climate treaty that emerged was historic but it did not save us.
Decades of political timidity and inaction put things into motion that could not be undone. The treaty did not save the glaciers in Glacier National Park (have they renamed it yet?) or the wildlife that could not adapt or the people that live on the coasts.
I never put much faith in the idea that pieces of paper produced by governments create change. I have faith in the land. I have faith in people. I know promises made by politicians only have meaning when the people make them have meaning.
If you are living in a world where we have managed to mitigate the most severe impacts of climate change it isn’t because governments agreed to reduce climate emissions at Paris; it is because while world leaders were negotiating in board rooms, citizens were shutting down coal plants, stopping coal mines, protecting their homelands and taking control. It is because we took what they gave us, said it wasn’t enough, and demanded more the next year, the year after and the year after.
We mourned deeply for what we knew we had already lost and yet had the courage to move forward. It was our only option. Only you know how we did.
Be still for a moment, the wild things might let you see them.