Choosing the future

The day after Thanksgiving, which was the day the Fourth National Climate Assessment report was released, I was walking around beautiful Charleston, SC popping into galleries, looking at the secret gardens off of King Street, and enjoying the day with a multitude of Black Friday shoppers. My affinity for Charleston, and neighboring Kiawah Island, is deep. Our family has been coming here for the past 15 years to enjoy the natural beauty, culture, and lifestyle. As I walked around that day, despite the cheery surroundings, I felt a sense of apprehension and loss: how much of this will survive rising sea levels? What will this city look like in ten, twenty, or fifty years?

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A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists anticipates that by 2060, parts of Charleston could experience severe flooding every other week. Nearly half of beautiful Kiawah Island could regularly be underwater in the near future, and by 2100 might not even exist, certainly not as we know it now. Even during this visit, we experienced a high tide ranked among the area’s highest ever (including tides during hurricanes and tropical storms) where activities were cancelled because the beach disappeared and roads flooded.

The Charleston metro region is home to over 700,000 people and is one of the fastest-growing in the country. The future reality of recurrent flooding due to sea level rise has not yet impacted consumer decision-making, but soon it will. For one woman, the reality is now. She was forced to tear down her home in the city’s historic district because repeat flooding made it impossible to sell.

This is just one example of the adaptation that will be required due to climate change. Many more of us will be faced with similar decisions. The key question: is adaptation our only possible future? Axios reporter Amy Harder, who moderated a climate change panel for us earlier in the year, wrote an article recently that left me completely depressed. She makes the argument, essentially, that the time to avert a climate crisis has passed: we are too late for more modest action and the extreme actions needed now on a worldwide scale won’t happen. All that is left is adaptation.

  IMAGE: CHUCK BURTON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

IMAGE: CHUCK BURTON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

I sat with this feeling for a few days - nearly a month after the IPCC released its 2018 climate report which contained alarming and devastating news that left me similarly disconsolate. These were the feelings I had after the 2016 election, the kind that leave you alternately filled with rage and wanting to retreat into pajamas to watch endless episodes of the Holiday Baking Championship on the Food Network. Earlier this year, my 1Planet co-founders Susanna Carey and Jennifer Roda and I decided we would not retreat; we would fight. We officially launched 1Planet in February and throughout the year worked to refine our strategic plan, raise money, and to fulfill our mission which is to create climate voters. But with this new information, I considered whether the fight was futile. Why are we doing this if a climate dystopian future is our most likely outcome?

And then I saw this quote from a woman who inspires me, oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle:

“The next 10 years will be the most important in the next 10,000 years in terms of shaping a future where humans can have a hope for an enduring place within the natural systems that keep us alive.”

God willing, I will be here for the next 10 years. We don’t know what the future holds: what technology may be developed, what collaborations are possible, or - against all odds - what political will may evolve (or be forced by voters). It is a privilege to be alive during this time and therefore it is my duty to fight - with everything - while I am here as part of this great planet. And we owe future generations nothing less than our best effort.

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I know my co-founders feel the same way. So in 2019, look for 1Planet to funnel rage, incredulity, and despair into action. We have learned a lot this year: we’re a little more experienced, a little less idealistic, and certainly more realistic about how hard it is to grow, raise money, and cultivate action. But we are committed. And we hope you will join us and support our efforts.

—Christine Matthews