Climate Change
An Open Letter to the Human Race

An Open Letter to the Human Race

By: Chandu Visweswariah

Dear human race,

Congratulations on centuries of progress and triumph (albeit bumpy at times). Your intellectual, artistic, medical and scientific progress in the last few centuries has been impressive. You have also made incremental progress on injustice, bigotry, discrimination and exploitation of all kinds, be it slavery, racism, colonialism or elitism.


However, it pains me to inform you of your failure in dealing with that most existential of crises. Yes, I am referring to the climate crisis. It brings tears to my eyes that all but the oldest among you will face catastrophic consequences, to say nothing of children and generations yet unborn. It saddens me tremendously that this is an “unforced error,” a case of entirely self-inflicted wounds. You know the grave harm in agonizing detail. You had enough of an understanding with sufficient notice to prevent this failure. You know the solutions – they are available and economically scalable. You know full well that fossil fuel is a poison that is ruining your planet. Yet, you are paralyzed, unable to take action with the necessary will and urgency.

I know what you’re thinking. “The world is just starting to generate momentum in the clean energy revolution. I promise that greenhouse gases will peak soon. I promise that fossil fuel use will peak soon. If we get our act together, we can beat this thing! Why do you speak of this catastrophe as a fait accomplit?” My answer is that the totality of the facts is sobering and undeniable. To stave off the worst impacts of climate change, it is clear that you have a limited carbon budget while you are still acting as though you have an infinite budget. You have to stop all emissions of greenhouse gases before that budget is exhausted. A purely numerical analysis of your remaining carbon budget reveals that you have a decade left. You heard that right, you need to drive all emissions to zero by 2034, as explained in my previous blog Our Diminishing Carbon Budget.

Unfortunately, that is not the full picture. The numerical analysis calculates a budget that prevents warming above 1.5oC “with 50% probability.” Since when have you started banking your future on such flimsy odds? The numerical analysis does not fully account for the quantity or harm from methane, a very powerful heat-trapping gas. Nor does it claim to model impacts from ‘tipping points’ (more about these later). For you to realistically live within this extremely tight carbon budget, some of your countries will necessarily move slower than others, so you desperately need a few high-emissions leaders to over-achieve. Already, there is evidence that warming is accelerating, suggesting that you may have tickled, if not triggered, the first of a series of tipping points, necessitating an update of the underlying mathematical models. Thus, you need to eliminate emissions by 2030 if not sooner, and you have waited so long that you simply cannot achieve this. Hence, dear human, it is a fait accomplit.

A quick aside here. A tipping point fundamentally upsets nature’s balance due to phenomena that exhibit out-of-control ‘positive feedback.’ For example, glaciers melt, exposing darker brown earth below that absorbs more heat, causing even more glaciers to melt. It is in your interest to expend every effort possible to prevent or minimize the probability and magnitude of these tipping points.

How did you get here? Why are you suddenly in the position of facing an insurmountable challenge? The stark answer is an endemic and system-wide failure.


To begin with, all your political systems and politicians have failed you. The first duty of your government is to protect its citizens and every government in the world has failed. The most aggressive among them aims for net zero by 2050, and at least one third of your population has no net-zero commitments till 2060 or even 2070 – as much as 40 years too late! Your political leaders are still subsidizing the aforementioned poison industry to the tune of $7 trillion per year, and your use of said poison hasn’t yet peaked. In this day and age, Australia is still mining coal, China and India are approving coal power plants, and the U.S. is approving new fracked gas pipelines. Your Presidents yo-yo between regulations to curb dangerous methane leakage and a “drill baby, drill” laissez-faire policy.

Yes, important legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act squeaked through your U.S. congress. Yes, you have plans in place to rapidly ramp up the use of renewable electricity, heat pumps and electric vehicles. Important subsidies are in place to encourage competitive cleantech solutions. Nonetheless, to your best-meaning leaders, I say, “way too little, much too late.”


Your justice system has let you down badly. The regulations and concomitant enforcement that have saved you from poisons in the past (whether lead or asbestos or freon) are simply not working. The system has fundamentally failed in recognizing and labeling fossil fuels as the poison that they are. What is more, there are poor and disadvantaged communities all over the world who are bearing the brunt of the environmental impacts of this injustice. Instead of being a voice in correcting these wrong, your courts have at best been sources of friction if not outright opposition to progress. Your Supreme Court justices are too busy hopping on free flights on extremely polluting private planes to do their jobs. Seriously, are you still debating whether an Environmental Protection Agency can regulate all aspects of the cleanliness of air? Seriously, do you still endorse placing garbage incinerators and power plants in disadvantaged communities? And how many years will it take you to uphold children’s rights to a safe, livable world in ‘Juliana v. United States?’[1]

United Nations

Despite colorful and cogent quotes from your Secretary General and brilliant work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists, your United Nations has failed. It is the one body that has the scope and mandate to attack a global problem like climate change. The Paris Accord was, of course, both unambitious and lacking teeth. The 1.5oC goal was an afterthought that came after many minds were made up on a 2050 net zero goal. Since then, the necessary finance to accelerate progress has not been arranged, national goals have not been met, dire IPCC report after dire IPCC report falls on deaf ears and global emissions have not reduced. In the one test that truly matters, history will judge your U.N. as toothless and ineffective.


To enable a robust discourse, you have set up an excellent system of think tanks, non-government organizations (NGOs), non-profits and activist networks. This sector has not only failed, but in some cases aided and abetted the foot-dragging. In fact, many of them are still bandying about a 2050 date, giving the false impression that you have time to lick this problem. Some of them encourage distractions like carbon capture, geo-engineering and nuclear energy. Most importantly, none of them has been able to rile up enough of you to make a difference or move the needle sufficiently. Their own carbon literacy is suspect, and their understanding of your predicament flimsy and superficial. Many of your conservation and sustainability organizations, despite their well-intentioned volunteerism, have not been able to get themselves to focus on decarbonization that really matters. To them I say, “It is not good enough to be well-meaning. You need to judge yourself by the quantified and validated decarbonization results that you achieve.” And by that measure, many of these institutions have presided over your utter foolishness, in some cases for a century or longer, idly standing by while you destroyed your future.[2]


Your scientific community bears a disproportionate share of the blame, although there is plenty to go around. Even while their understanding of the situation has improved and they have invented solar panels, batteries, heat pumps and electric vehicles, their ability to convince the general populace about the urgency of the situation is abysmal. As a community who understands the nature of the problem the best, your scientists are utterly powerless in exerting any influence on your behavior or policies. They still write inscrutable reports where every part of every sentence is annotated with “Very likely” or “About as likely as not” – making them unfathomable to all but the most intrepid reader. This community should be shouting from the rooftops that your race is doing something very stupid, and that clarity is sorely lacking. Instead, misinformation, dis-information, fake news, myths and self-destructive memes propagate through your social media networks.


Your religious institutions have allowed you to degrade your spirits to the point where you don’t care about catastrophes lurking around this decade’s corner, let alone in future decades. They have made you callous to the suffering of future generations. They condone your exploitation of the environment to the point where you will lose millions of species forever. When’s the last time you heard a sermon, dirge or homily about the species that have gone extinct, and the millions more that you will inevitably drive from existence? How could your entire race become so uncaring, and your spirits be so calloused? How could so many of you ignore Pope Francis’s lucid call to action in Laudato Si, with its compelling theme of urgent care for your common home?


And ultimately, dear human, you have failed. So many of you haven’t even taken the first step of decarbonizing your own lives, diddling with good intentions while you run out of time. When something truly mattered in your past, you took to the streets and demanded action. Slavery, women’s suffrage, colonialism, racism – these were all fought by people risking their lives for the cause. World wars galvanized entire countries to unite in a cause that literally moved heaven and earth. The crisis you face now is more fearsome than any of those!

Yet you go about your life while the said poison can be purchased and burned anywhere on your planet. In a major and well-educated economy, half of the United States is willing to embrace a major political party that wants to undo even the paltry progress you have made thus far. Half the nation supports a “Drill, baby, drill” candidate for the office of President. When will you protest poison being sold in your towns and villages? When will you blockade the burning of poison in your neighborhoods? When will you refuse to allow “poisonous electricity” to enter your grid? When will you definitively boycott all poisonous fossil fuel products? And when will you rise up to tell your political, religious, scientific and other leaders that they have utterly failed, and you demand better? Not tomorrow but now!

So where do we go from here?

The nature of this failure is moral and criminal. How can you burn fossil fuels knowing that entire species are being wiped out as a result? How can you burn fossil fuels knowing that it will cause an unstable climate for centuries to come? How can you burn fossil fuels knowing that you will lose island nations and even some of your finest coastal cities as a result? How can you burn fossil fuels knowing that disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of the consequences? You are arsonists all, and the systems of government and norms of society you have built are aiding and abetting your criminal activity.

Being an eternal optimist, it pains me to write this kind of letter. Yes, I know there are bright spots here and there. Solar panels, batteries, electric vehicles, heat pumps – these are on a ‘learning curve’ with impressive price reductions year-over-year. I know you have rare politicians who have passed effective climate legislation (including in my own political districts). I know you have rare religious leaders who care about human impact on ecology. But your failure is essentially a human failure.

There are two steps to overcoming this failure. The first is to drive consensus. All the above-named failing parties have to admit their failure, admit that they were complicit in precipitating an emergency, and wholeheartedly join the all-consuming urgent effort to lick this thing. The second step is to execute a plan: move heaven and earth to decarbonize as rapidly as possible. Do I doubt your ability to execute such a campaign? No. Do I doubt your ability to drive consensus? Yes.

In conclusion, the sum total of all these failures convinces me that you will continue to rearrange proverbial chairs on this gedanken Titanic before it hits the proverbial rocks in less than a decade. Not because you can’t do it, but because you don’t have the will to do it. Will you rise to the challenge? The odds are stacked against you and getting longer with every passing minute. The relentless climate clock is ticking…

[1] Juliana v. United States is a lawsuit brought by Our Children’s Trust on behalf of child plaintiffs alleging that the United States Government has not sufficiently protected plaintiffs from the harms of climate change and fossil fuels.

[2] With rare exceptions, such as for the Village of Croton-on-Hudson, where I live, which has earned the leading position as New York State’s #1 Clean Energy Community.

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