When he wrote to Rep. Jan Schakowsky 13 years ago about his fears of climate change, Ethan Senser writes now, he failed to appreciate the human toll, such as the forest fires now sweeping through California. | AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

In the 7th grade, Congresswoman, I wrote to you about climate change. Now I’m more worried than ever

SHARE In the 7th grade, Congresswoman, I wrote to you about climate change. Now I’m more worried than ever
SHARE In the 7th grade, Congresswoman, I wrote to you about climate change. Now I’m more worried than ever

Dear U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky,

In December of 2005, you gave a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives titled “Congress Should Listen to Ethan Senser.” That was me. You asked your colleagues to listen to a letter that I had written you.


I was in the 7th grade then, nervous about climate change and eager to play my part in expressing my concerns to Congress. I was optimistic about the willingness of my representatives to listen.

They did not. In the 13 years since then, we have begun to see the consequences I feared as a middle schooler: the melting of the ice caps, destruction of animal habitats, and the rise of global temperatures.

But for everything I mentioned in my letter, there was something I left out — the human element.

Yes, the ice caps are melting. As a result, flooding from high tide has soared 400 percent in Miami Beach, leaving people to wade through their city’s streets on sunny days.

Yes, animals are losing their habitats. So are the residents of Southeast Texas, for whom catastrophic rainfall from Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion in damage.

Yes, temperatures are rising. They are fueling a fire season which now extends all year in California, where 84 people this year were burned alive while fleeing the worst blaze in state history.

The damage I feared 13 years ago already is being done, and it is set to get only worse.

Last month’s National Climate Assessment, the work of 13 federal agencies and 350 scientists, predicted hundreds of billions of dollars of damage to the U.S. economy should we continue on our current path. That is hundreds of billions of dollars worth of people’s homes and jobs, their lives and their future. Breaching 1.5 degrees of warming would quite literally be condemning hundreds of millions of people to death worldwide.

We are on course for far worse than that.

According to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, preventing this requires an unprecedented transition — a full conversion of our energy system and society to net zero emissions of C02 by 2050. This is not simply a goal to reach for. This is a requirement to avoid catastrophe.

You took a stand by refusing campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, Rep. Schakowsky, but your fellow Democrats continue to stand by without a comprehensive plan for dealing with this crisis.

There is no hope for the transformation we need unless Congress offers a clear vision for the future, one that addresses not only the science, but the human element as well — the people whose lives and livelihoods are at stake. The threats we face fall most heavily on the those who have been left out and neglected while inequality in this country has soared: communities of color, the poor and the middle class.

We need a “Green New Deal,” a vision for a far-reaching mobilization and infrastructure plan to rapidly overhaul our energy and economic system. Not only is such a plan necessary in the face of climate change, it would be an engine for economic growth, generating tens of millions of living-wage jobs. I ask you to demand that your leadership create a new House select committee for such a plan, one with the funding and legislative power to ensure that a comprehensive policy framework is ready for 2021.

Thirteen years ago, I wrote that I was “hoping” Congress would act before climate change had gone too far. You asked your colleagues to listen and they did not. The time for “hoping” has passed.

So, I ask you:

Congresswoman, what is your plan?

Ethan Senser is an environmentalorganizerand film producer raised in the Chicago suburbs. He graduated from Northwestern University in 2016 and currently lives in Los Angeles.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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