Birthdays present the chance to reflect on the passage of time, on how one’s life has intersected with the broader narrative of humanity. I was born on November 14, 1984. Ronald Reagan was President, the Soviet Union still existed, and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was around 345 parts per million (PPM). When I turned eight, in 1992, I was blissfully unaware of the Rio Earth Summit, which had taken place that summer and at which the George H.W. Bush administration had prevented language establishing “firm timetables for curbing carbon dioxide emissions” from making it into the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. They also refused to consider providing funds for poorer countries to “pay for programs to protect their environments.” Sadly, at the recently concluded COP26 in Glasgow, these same dynamics were at play.
When Bill Clinton was impeached, in December 1998, I was 14 and a student at a swanky private school in LA. I remember our history teacher, Dr. Silvestri, being absolutely outraged at the president’s moral conduct. I wonder if he’s still teaching, and, if so, what he told his class during the Trump presidency?
When I turned 17, in 2001, the U.S. had just invaded Afghanistan; we were at almost 370 PPM. By the time of my 19th birthday, we had “completed” our invasion of Iraq and begun the disastrous occupation. In those intervening two years, my political consciousness had developed to the point that I became deeply involved in anti-war protests, culminating in an overnight bus ride from LA to San Francisco, where I joined a peaceful protest with over 500,000 people. We failed to stop the Iraq war, of course; and I wonder what, aside from galvanizing my commitment to social and environmental justice, we accomplished.
Time marched on. In 2004, not long after George W. Bush’s re-election (which was the last time a Republican won the popular vote), I celebrated my 20th birthday in Granada, Spain, where I was doing a yearlong study abroad program. In 2005, my birthday came after I had just completed a 3,800-mile cross-country bike ride; atmospheric C02 was approaching 380 PPM.
When Barack Obama won the 2008 election I was a 24-year-old graduate student at Brown University, researching financing mechanisms for clean energy and exploring the idea of starting a nonprofit that would make loans to low-income families. A year later, I had graduated and become the Founder and CEO of Capital Good Fund.
Fast-forward to 2014. For my 30th birthday, which feels like it happened a blink-of-an-eye ago, I attempted a 200-mile bike ride (I only made it 130 miles, after some routing snafus and getting tired). By November 14, 2015, I was happily married to Bianca, whom I started dated in 2013.
I was in New York with my parents then, and I’ll never forget when I received a notification about the terror attack in Paris, which led to the deaths of 130 civilians. At the time, Trump was beginning to emerge as a real possibility for winning the Republican nomination for president, and I distinctly recall fear washing over me: I knew that he could, and would, parlay a terror attack into his anti-immigrant, xenophobic rhetoric. There was another reason for worry: atmospheric CO2 had crossed 400 PPM, the highest level in 400,000 years.
Then came November 14, 2016. Trump was President-elect of the United States; it was literally and figuratively dark and dreary. I had the sense that we were all at the bottom of a long climb, with unknown horrors waiting for us above the treeline. And sure enough, the coming years were exhausting, terrifying, maddening, infuriating.
Yet life went on, birthdays and other milestones coming and going: 2018, 2018, 2019…Ah, and then 2020. Due to the pandemic, for only the second time in my life, I was unable to celebrate with my parents. Nevertheless, I breathed a giant sigh of relief, for Biden had won. But the pandemic raged on, as did the climate crisis, and the forces of authoritarianism were only beginning their assault on truth and democracy.
Which brings us to today. I am now 37. Next month my son turns three. I have moved back to the Los Angeles area, where I grew up. Capital Good Fund is growing ever-faster. Voting and women’s reproductive rights are eroding. COP26 once again came up short of what we need to prevent catastrophic warming. And despite the pandemic, atmospheric C02 is approaching 420.
So how do I feel? Good. Hopeful. We are in a race: the cost of green technologies–solar panels, batteries, electric cars, heat pumps–are falling fast, making them increasingly the better economic choice for families, businesses, and industry. The question is not whether we can limit warming to 1.5C, but if we will enact policies that will force / incentivize the adoption of these technologies fast enough.
Of course, it’s not just a matter of technology. We have to stop deforestation, end fossil fuel subsidies, change how we manufacture products and grow food. But the point is that we know how to do it and the extent of sacrifice required to get there is decreasing: we won’t need to live in igloos to avert catastrophic global warming.
The reason I’m hopeful is that so long as a problem has perfectly feasible solutions, it is worth fighting to implement those solutions. And there is joy in the fight. We live in an era where we can come up with new ways of financing solar panels; eliminate the use of fossil fuels in our homes; advocate for making the solar tax credit refundable; march in the streets to put pressure on banks and insurance companies to stop financing climate destruction; and so on.
The future is always being written now. In 1980, solar panels cost $10 per watt; today, they come in at just $0.2 per watt. When I was born, no one could have predicted that a $35,000 electric car could go 250 miles on a charge, or that it would be feasible to power an entire economy on wind, solar, and battery backup. Who knows what good will occur in the coming years–innovations in finance, governance, technology, agriculture, manufacture, carbon removal? I’m excited to see where things will stand when I turn 38–after another year of participating in a global movement for justice.