Melinda Welsh
Davis, California, United States

Future and the Past

“Why were we able to turn the corner on the climate? What made us do it? In the end it was you -- the people who now live and thrive in 2115.”

Dear Future Family,

I know you’ve heard plenty about what happened in Paris in 2015. But I was alive back then, so I wanted you to hear it from me. First, some history: Somehow, a cloak of denial got dropped, at the dawn of the 21st century, when word first spread that we were putting the future of humanity at risk by burning too many fossil fuels. Climate experts warned us about the awful consequences of inaction, but basically we did nothing. I’m sure it seems ridiculous to you now, but global warming was seen back then as a political controversy instead of a physics problem that had to be solved! Well all that changed after Paris – it’s as if the tipping point had finally come.

It was December 2015 when the world’s governments (about 180 nations!) signed a global treaty that, for the first time, set up an aggressive carbon action plan for the future. It wasn’t just President Obama, Pope Francis or the U.N. negotiators that made it happen either. Millions of protestors gathered in the streets of Paris and all over the world those weeks and after – chanting and singing and tweeting and organizing – all to draw attention to the need to finally do something big and real about the climate crisis. The people of your generation owe as much to these protestors as to anyone – they kept the pressure on for the countries of the world to ultimately do what was right.

After Paris, the global climate movement was finally off to the races. For starters, the Keystone Pipeline was denied and Obama reversed himself and stopped Shell Oil from drilling in the Arctic. By the end of 2016, college students across the globe turned out in mass to pressure their universities to divest from coal and fossil fuel companies. They succeeded. Churches, corporations and municipalities all over the world followed suit. It took a giant push to force the big energy companies to stop digging up and burning fossil fuels, but it happened. Within a decade, solar and wind energy became a revolutionary force, forever transitioning us away from a carbon-based economy. Instead of an impossible target, the goal to move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 became a doable mathematic necessity. Because it had to be done – we got it done. In the end it was as simple as that.

Why were we able to turn the corner on the climate after all that denial? What made us do it? In the end it was you -- the people who now live and thrive in 2115. It was Paris that made us see: the future required something of the past.

Founding editor, Sacramento News & Review and team member, the Paris Climate Project.