Letters for Paris

The terrorist attacks must not overshadow the climate talks

As I write this, just days after the attacks in Paris that left nearly 130 dead and hundreds more seriously wounded, some believe the United States and its allies are on the brink of World War III.

The 24-hour news cycle likely will focus on Paris for weeks, maybe months, as governments prepare for further inevitable attacks around the world. Let us hope that the forthcoming United Nations climate talks in the City of Light do not get overshadowed by the cries for war. That would be yet another travesty considering the role climate change has played in the Middle East's refugee crisis and the rise of ISIS.

Global warming has destabilized the war-torn region, causing extreme drought, destroying farms and displacing millions of people. And while the resulting abject poverty and violence have driven millions to seek safety and security in Europe, those conditions have also driven many to join the extremists.

More than any terror group—be it al-Qaida, ISIS, Boko Haram, et. al.—climate change is the greatest threat to the planet and its inhabitants. And yet year after year the nations of the world kick the can down the road.

That's the reason this newspaper, along with dozens of others around the country, is participating in a national letter-writing campaign called Letters to the Future in advance of the 21st annual climate conference, which begins Nov. 30. Sacramento News & Review Editor-at-Large Melinda Welsh spearheaded this project, recruiting such luminaries as Bill McKibben, Michael Pollan and Jim Hightower to join the conversation.

The letters are written to each author's descendants, a few generations from now, predicting the outcome of the talks. The point is to urge world leaders to make substantive commitments to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that are wreaking havoc on the planet and jeopardizing its ability to sustain future generations. None of the 20 preceding talks has led to a legally binding agreement to do that.

For this week's cover story, we compiled several of the essays. Their authors include two Pulitzer Prize winners, an astronaut and a national environmental advocate, along with a trio of local letter-writers. There are more than 100 additional essays at LettersToTheFuture.org. Please read them. They vary in tone, from cautiously optimistic to comical to what some, based on our history of indifference, would assume is realistic—an apocalyptic vision of the future.

It's not too late to make your voice heard by penning a letter to the future. Those received before Nov. 25 will be sent to delegates and citizens who are convening in Paris for the talks. And it's not too late to get involved locally with a group trying to shed light on the planet's plight (see Meredith J. Cooper's report on page 8). Climate change is an issue requiring leadership at the highest level, but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to sit on our hands. Now is the time for action, not only in Paris but also right here in our backyards.