“Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago,” – Greta Thunberg, United Nations COP24 Climate Summit, Poland 2019
Dear Children of the World,
This is a heartfelt apology to you all from me and on behalf of my fellow grownups for leaving behind a messy, scary, volatile world that has the possibility of being completely obliterated by our actions. We are grateful to you and to your visionary leaders like Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, activists of the March For Our Lives and the Road Safety Movement (Bangladesh) and countless others, for passionately pointing out to us what we have done and how we have jeopardised your future. They are true heroes.
I apologise for all those lofty claims by us grownups, of how “children are our future” and how we should protect them, when we have done practically everything to ensure that more of you, children, will be tortured, die violent deaths, or be permanently maimed in bomb blasts or gun violence or just choke to death from the fumes of our ignorance. We have managed to create more wars than we ever did for our obsession with grabbing land and resources of others, made refugees out of you and your families, and allowed millions to die in conflicts or as a result of them. In fact, at this point in time we have managed to develop the most technologically advanced and lethal weapons that could wipe out the face of the earth and lead to the extinction of humankind.
We make big commitments at high-powered climate change conferences. But at home we are gleefully cutting down trees, lush forests that could have saved us from cyclones and abnormal heat waves and provided the oxygen we need to live on; we have filled up precious rivers or killed them with toxic waste—all in the name of “development”—ironically to ensure a better future for you!
So despite hearing about how fossil fuels are contributing to the world heating up (with an increase of about one degree Celsius since the pre-industrial era), leading to glaciers melting and the extreme weather patterns we are already witnessing, we still decide to pour in money to build coal plants instead of renewable energy systems using solar or wind technology. Why do we do this? Oh, because, you see, we are greedy and addicted to power. We cannot help but be attracted to the wads of dollars that will go into our pockets if we cut trees and replace them with noisy, dirty fuel-making plants. Did Greta say 200 species are going extinct every day because of loss of habitat? Animals, plants, trees—I’m afraid we don’t really care. As Greta said, most of us are just not bothered about what will happen fifty years from now—we’ll be dead anyway. Oh, and our children? Yes, it is sad that they will live in such difficult circumstances and could very well be looking at a dystopian future: a future, say, like the one in the fictional web television series “The Handmaid’s Tale” (based on Margaret Atwood’s novel), where pollution and disease have drastically lowered fertility rates and America—the icon of progressive thought and freedoms of all kinds—is ruled by a militarised authoritarian, repressive regime where women are degraded in the most horrific ways and have no rights whatsoever. Unfortunately, as extreme and farfetched as it sounds, many of these frightening scenes are no longer fictional. Yet here we are, doing nothing about it.
We are also deeply remorseful for not giving you any role models to follow. We have elected leaders who do not believe women should be treated as equal human beings, who allow the grossest injustices to be inflicted on the powerless, who do nothing to provide the people with access to education, nutritious food, shelter and basic healthcare, and who use misogyny, racism, bigotry and xenophobia to get elected and re-elected. We tolerate leaders who deny climate change and conveniently forget that the biggest polluters like the US have a moral responsibility to reduce their fossil fuel emissions and contribute to the Green Climate Fund. These people are deaf to Greta’s intense warnings regarding how we must stop everything and focus on formulating policies that will protect whatever little natural resources we have in the globe and prevent further destruction. As she has painfully stated, she could not believe that climate change was real because if it was, then that would be all that we would be talking about! It’s shocking how blinded we have become by our own selfishness and obsession to feel superior to everyone else!
It is a tragedy that you will have to witness terrible things. There will be more people fleeing their homelands as new wars break out on the flimsiest of grounds, even false ones, causing mass exodus of people into countries where nobody really wants them because they are considered economic burdens. There may be very few trees left as the old ones will be murdered to clear the way for development projects, malls, arcadias and luxury apartments for the elite and the powerful. You will have to strictly ration the water because the rivers will all be dead—we are making sure of that by encroaching on them and poisoning the water with toxic industrial waste. The ground water will be dried up and all other waterbodies filled up with our concrete fantasies. Birds will no longer migrate from as far as Siberia to Savar (Bangladesh) as their habitats will have been decimated to build dorms and administrative buildings. You will only read about the Royal Bengal Tiger in the Sundarbans and merely wonder what a mangrove forest could look like. Ocean floors will be filled with plastic, and fish and other aquatic creatures will be poisoned by this ghastly, non-biodegradable pollutant. In fact, given the speed of extinction every year (one thousand species!), you may rest assured that there will be very few living creatures in your future.
We also regret the fact that instead of increasing opportunities for the girls amongst you to be educated, we have actually regressed to a point where we have more child marriages than ever, forcing girls to drop out of school, abandon their dreams, be subject to sexual and other forms of violence, and bear babies that their bodies are not ready for.
As bizarre as it sounds, we have made the roads more unsafe for you (those of you who may survive) despite your wonderful efforts to create awareness about traffic rules and force us grownups to follow them. Instead of applauding you, we have tried to intimidate you and silence your voices. We have not done anything to protect you from madmen who decide to use their semiautomatic weapons to take revenge on innocent people, many of them children, like you.
Although we celebrate you and your leaders for taking such bold steps, going on strike or protesting in the streets to make us grownups listen, how can we not hang our heads in shame? We have used religion, nationalism and “protection of democratic values” as excuses to pillage, destroy and kill. We have forced you to grow up far ahead of your time, robbed you of carefree childhoods, forced you to come out of school and essentially be the grownups to shake us up and make us hear you because, at this point, your very existence and that of your world are on the brink of annihilation.
We have failed you, dear children, so please try to forgive us if you can. We hope your voices will reach us before it is too late.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is Senior Deputy Editor, Editorial and Opinion, The Daily Star.