Letter to Young Americans
By Subhankar Banerjee, September 9, 2010

You’re young. You may have just started or returned to college for fall semester; maybe you’re starting senior year in high school; maybe you finished college last spring but haven’t been able to find a job yet; maybe you already have a job; maybe you have nothing to do with college or a job and you are just trying to figure things out... or so many other scenarios that I don’t know about.

The world in front of you does not seem very bright right now –– the economy has tanked; BP’s criminal spill must have impacted you emotionally; the climate bill failed; ongoing war in Afghanistan... the list goes on and on. I bet you’re disheartened (or worse disgusted) with politics and politicians. Possibly you’re thinking of not even voting this year.

I’m writing this letter to you with all that in mind.

During the past decade, I gave lectures at the United Nations and at Universities of all sizes and reputation across the country. But I’m not a motivational speaker. And I sure am no Rilke. But I’ll try my best to inspire you to start a clean energy revolution –– yes I’m talking about a revolution.

During my childhood in India, I had no interest in politics or election. I loved cinema. Each time I could save 75 paisa (about 2 cents) by selling my fish (guppies and mollies) at the Sunday market, I’d go see a film made by such directors as Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, and others. Through these films I began to learn about storytelling and about social justice.

In 2004, I became a U.S. citizen. I’ve been fighting for ecological and human rights justice in the American Arctic for nearly a decade.

Now I’m concerned about your future, as well as the future of all young people all over the world, and all the birds and animals. Why? I’ll tell you.

This year, you’ve watched, read, and heard about: tragic flood in Pakistan; deadly fires in Russia; BP’s criminal oil–and–methane spill in the Gulf of Mexico... and the list goes on. All these disasters are devastating for human communities as well as the ecology of each of these regions. They’re also very costly to deal with. These disasters will increase both in frequency and intensity if we continue our addiction to oil-and-coal and fail to address climate change.

You maybe asking “how does any of that relate to me?” Let me explain.

Energy experts are now worried about the increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from China and India. I’ll update that scenario for you. China is now the largest emitter of GHG, U.S. is #2, and India is #3. However, per capita GHG emission goes like this –– U.S. is about 4 times more than China, and about 12 times more than India.

If we don’t move away from burning fossil fuels in short order, China, U.S., and India – just these three countries together will put so much carbon in the atmosphere over the next several decades, that you will find yourself in a planet that may not seem very healthy or habitable for you and for much of life that inhabit our earth. You’re young and you must shape and define the future of the planet that you’ll continue to inhabit long after I’m gone.

Henry Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience –– it was powerful and profoundly influenced among others Gandhi, Tolstoy, and Dr. King. Then came Howard Zinn and he wrote The Problem Is Civil Obedience. A few years ago Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove, co-edited the influential book Voices of a People’s History of the United States. I was honored when in 2005 Anthony asked me to perform Howard’s The Problem Is Civil Obedience at the Seattle Art Museum. We did readings from the book two days in a row. Howard Zinn passed away earlier this year, but it is his words that ring true in my ears.

Barbara Freese in her thoroughly researched book Coal: A Human History details how Big Coal was actually more influential than even Big Oil in getting George W. Bush elected as the U.S. President. After the climate bill failed this past July, Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in The Hill, “too many Senators are more concerned about short-term oil and coal profits”. What I’m trying to say is that many politicians are obedient to the corporations that helped them get elected. You don’t have to be obedient to anyone.

Recently I read in The New York Times that fewer young voters see themselves as Democrats this year. Fortunately, there was a nice critique of that piece in The Huffington Post. Its also true that recent polls are showing that Republicans maybe taking over either or both chambers of Congress. My allegiance is not to any particular party, but to the issue of clean energy economy and a healthier planet for all life. We squandered our chance to pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill during the 111th Congress. Now if the Republicans do indeed take over either or both chambers of Congress, what worries me is that Big Oil and Big Coal will be rejoicing and the clean energy economy in the U.S. will have to wait. All these don’t bode well either for you or for our earth.

China will continue to burn coal–and–oil for some time to come, no doubt about that, but they’ve also started unprecedented investment in clean energy technology. They know that in 10 or 20 years there will be an enormous global market for clean energy and they sure would like to be the leader of the pack. Where will U.S. be then?

I’m urging you to start a clean energy revolution in the U.S.

Between now and the November election I’d suggest few simple things that you can do:

Local –– Do research to find out which organization(s) in your city/town/state working on clean energy economy and find out how you can get involved. To give you an example, in my home state of New Mexico we have a wonderful organization called New Energy Economy (NEE). I recently testified at a climate hearing on their behalf in front of our Environmental Improvement Board that is considering NEE’s proposal to cut GHG emission in New Mexico by 25% below the 1990 level by 2020.

Global –– Check out 10-10-10 Global Work Party that will make happen next month. I bet they’re doing something in your neighborhood. Find out where and participate for sure. With just one act that October day, you’ll feel part of a global movement, that dissolves all borders of race, class, gender, age, and economic status, with only one common global concern – climate change.

Beltway –– Do research to find out who are running for office in your district and in your state for U.S. Congress and what their positions and past records are on clean energy and climate change.

Friends and Family –– Tell everyone what you learned with your research and action. If they’re younger tell them you’re working to help secure a better future for them. If they are older tell them they must join you to secure a better future for you.

Stories -- If you need stories for inspiration, to know that what you’re fighting for is worth every bit, you can visit anytime that I founded last month.

You’re young. Your future is in your hands. Start your climate revolution now. Come November you must vote and you must vote with climate in your mind.

It’ll be the beginning of a long journey for you just like it has been for me since I saw my first Mrinal Sen film when I was a little kid in India. In the process you’ll secure a better future for yourself and for so many others.

In solidarity,
Subhankar Banerjee

Copyright 2010 Subhankar Banerjee