by Hank Stowers
When I first sat down to write this letter, it was for your younger self. I wanted it to be a letter passed to you soon after you were adopted, set lightly on your nightstand to be puzzled over with dim lamplight and radiant courage. I was going to draw pictures, to help you understand. I would have anguished over every word, desperate to impart the gravity of all species’ greatest threat on a kid, simultaneously paralyzed with the knowledge that my remarks may drift away in a sea of new impressions, as is so often the case with young minds. I would not have been able to deliver the world to you gently enough.
Mostly, I would not be exhibiting my own radiant courage. My courage is waiting, insisting instead that you will survive to read this on your twenty-fifth birthday. Courage is believing that we will find the power to mend our brittle, fissured world, before it’s too late. I want you to see me being courageous, because I know you will need to do the same, and much more. So I speak to you now, grown and flourishing, my child. I hope with all my heart that these words find you well.
As I write to you, the final days of this decade wane away. It feels like the whole world is sighing, tattered and fatigued, and perhaps tenacious enough to to hope for relief. There is so much we need to be relieved of. The number of displaced, stranded people has doubled in the past ten years, and we approach an era in which one hundred million people cannot return to their home, or the scarred remains of that place. Increasingly, our refugee crises, escalations of conflict, and crushing losses of blossoming life, are attributed to weather events. Our climate is not changing, it is collapsing all around us. Fires, heatwaves, droughts, floods, and hurricanes are razing the landscapes that our species have inhabited for millennia. Many other species, woven even deeper into their ecosystems than us, cannot not flee, and are disappearing altogether. It pains me greatly to know that I will reminisce of fellow biosphere community members who you will never know.
I turned twenty five years old today. You will probably be born in a few years (I don’t expect to adopt you for another decade). I cannot imagine the danger that you will soon be facing, learning to survive in your infancy not by example, but through the brute force of trial. I hope that by the time you read this, the deep crevices of inequality and oppression will have been sewn shut, that the word privilege might mean a little less, wedged between us. While an energy dynasty forged in fossil fuels and capitalism ravages the only planet we call home, I have grown up in the private sanctuary of white supremacy culture, shielded temporarily from the destructive power of climate chaos. In my own lifetime, the poisonous ventricles of my culture, rooted in extraction and dominion, have transformed the climate crisis into a weapon. The most brutal of our environmental injustices have been aimed toward communities of color, nations of indigenous people, and intergenerationally nurtured ecosystems. The same architects of imperialism that evaluated millions of human lives as chattel, and built empires atop their breaking backs, have polluted our biosphere, and transformed the miracle of energy, which surges through all things in this world, into a cancer. I have struggled to exist, as humans invariably do, but my obstacles all bask in the empire of privilege, built by slaves and servants. I have never been forced to move anywhere. I have never wandered in the streets of my own community without palatable water, or breathable air. The hottest of my days are air conditioned, the empire into which I was born dumps its toxic waste Elsewhere, a fictitious place inhabited by real people. You, on the other hand, will be a child orphaned and forced to seek refuge by climate chaos, and I have been complicit in your suffering since my own birth. I want you to know that as much as I strive to confront and dismantle the pillars where my privilege resides, I will occasionally falter, and slip into the grasp of a colonizer mentality, and you will tell me I am wrong, and I will grapple with the sanctuary of my privilege before I am able to understand. I was born into a struggle for awakening; a sobering recognition that in our ruthless exploits, white society has only prolonged self-annihilation for a moment. We have behaved like a sailor perched up in the crow’s nest, shooting holes in our own ship. For what my people and I have done, I am so sorry.
But this is not a letter of apology for the apocalypse. This is a letter of prayer, that a new force of hope and resilience sprouting in the soul of my generation will be nourished and cared for enough to blossom in the hands of your own.
There is a revolution happening, growing and spreading through the youth, faster and brighter than any wildfire or heatwave. Oh, how I wish you could be here to witness it with me! It is ecstatic and terrifying, jubilant and heartbreaking, all at once. A great surge of organized, strategic and radical empathy has arisen to meet the goliath of climate collapse. Everywhere on earth, young people are coming together in a shared song of resilience, unshakable optimism, and uncompromising determination. Indigenous tribes are leading us all back to our roots in this biosphere, forming a path boldly defiant of their would-be conquerors. Young women of color are at the front lines of a political revolution, performing liberation, compassion, and honesty in the same halls where those virtues were first legislated away from their ancestors. Everywhere that there is injustice, technology has evolved in the hands of organizers into a tool of accountability and communication. People all over the world are simultaneously feeling the magic of a limitless empathy, the ability to share and fight for the miracle of life alongside anyone, anywhere. We are actualizing the potential of our magic, breathing it to action with political campaigns for mutual aid, investments in renewable energy transformation, and the graceful abolition of systemic oppression. It is all happening right now, in our trembling hands.
This revolution, or awakening, or whatever name it will be remembered by, is for you. For this reason, we cannot lose. It is for your children, and your children’s children. Oren Lyons, Chief of the Onondaga and Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nations, says it best:
We are looking ahead, as is one of the first mandates given us as chiefs, to make sure and to make every decision that we make relate to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come…Where are you taking them? What will they have?
Across the world, we are rediscovering our empathy for one another, our fellow animals, our rivers and plains, our biosphere, and our future. And we are acting on it. You deserve a world that can hold you, where you can learn to be courageous, and not hopeless. It is my own hope that by the time you read this letter, you will have found space for courage already.
My child, I wait with bated breath to deliver this letter to you. In closing, I wish to add one more thought, more so as a reminder to myself, than a prayer to you. When the revolution began, it was dismissed by many of my elders, even the ones I love. Many walked the path toward hope by our sides, but others laughed at our cries of desperation and sorrow, mocking our resolution, and cursing our joy. They didn’t know that they were only entombing themselves in their misery. The ruinous tendrils of a story they bound themselves to, patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy, decayed. We walked on without them, a little lonelier from the places where love was tangled up in revolution.
When your generation must face its own perils and trials, remind us of this promise: We will walk with you. We will remember what it was like to be a twenty five year old human, bursting with the frantic joy of being alive, and the relentless determination to flourish, and we will walk with you.
All my love,
Hank, He/Him or They/Them pronouns:
I am many things! Organizer for liberation and the abolition of oppressive systems, outdoor explorer and risk-seeker, coffee and cigarette romantic, dork, and more. Most importantly, I am a literary futurist. I discovered the world I want to live in through the writings of Octavia Butler and Arundhati Roy, among others. The vision and critical hope latent in speculative fiction has guided me toward the work of abolishing my own oppressor identity. I spend more time thinking about writing than actually writing, and I think that means I’m a little like Octavia: “…an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.”