How do I know this? Who am I, that I can be so confident that you can solve this daunting problem? And, most importantly, how in the world are you going to solve global warming?
I am no one in particular. Trust me, you've never heard of me. And even if you have, it doesn't matter who I am anyways, because ideas require no pedigree. How can I be so sure that you will solve it? Because I know that you will rise to the occasion. Because I know that you have it in you. Yes, climate change is a terrifying problem. It will lead to catastrophe if we don't solve it. It will affect coastal cities (Miami, New York), fresh water supplies (anyone who depends on mountain ice melting in the spring and summer for agriculture), entire nations (Bangladesh and many island nations), and entire continents (all of Europe could enter a mini-ice age). Yes, I know that we've been trying for 20 years to make headway on this problem without anything to show for it.
But someone needs to say this, someone needs to be a new voice in your head that says you will solve this. You are equal to this challenge. You will not let fear paralyze you. Climate change is the first problem our species has ever created where nearly every single person is involved in creating and perpetuating it. This is why it will take you to solve this problem. No, don't listen to that other voice that says, "It doesn't matter what I do, 7 billion other people are not going to change their ways." That voice counsels comfortable inaction, but it's an excuse. It doesn't matter what 7 billion other people do. It only matters what you do, because the only person that you have control over is yourself. You know that if you yourself take action, if you explored carpooling or biking or taking public transit or eating less meat or installing solar panels or buying fewer luxury goods, that counts for something. Don't measure what other people do or don't do, measure what you yourself do. Think about what you yourself are capable of.
This world is full of people's opinions, myriad voices disagreeing about everything and anything. People argue about whether global warming is real, whether it is caused by humans, whether it is really as bad as they say, whether we can solve it. Scientists and politicians alternate from pretending the problem doesn't exist to trying to scare the crap out of you. Who out there is telling you that you are needed, that you are the one who is going to solve this problem? Who out there is trying to remind you about something you had forgotten for such a long time, so long that you were beginning to think that it wasn't true anymore: that you are the most powerful force that has ever existed on this planet, that you are capable of things that you yourself could not believe? You are not like anyone else. You are irreplaceable and magical. You are a conscious being, an intelligence. You are reading this paragraph and grasping the significance of it. What other object in the universe can do that? Take a moment and think about that. Someone just like you invented algebra, eliminated smallpox, put a man on the moon. You are able to change your ways, even change your entire worldview if you encounter new knowledge. Nothing can stop you from solving even the most complex problems.
The world leaders who are at the COP21 meeting in Paris have nothing on you. Governments can only do so much. They can make a few rules and try to enforce them with more or less success. Don't look to them to solve your problems. They are not your parents or your guardians. They are people just like yourself. They aren't smarter than you. They don't have all the answers. They can't do it all. If a problem like global warming is ever going to be solved, it is going to be solved by everyone, and that means you. That's why I say you are needed; that's why you will solve this problem.
Now, as to the final question of how you are going to solve this problem: I don't know the answer. And you probably don't know, either. But that doesn't mean that there's no answer. Just like when you were staring at a math problem in school, and you knew that there was a way to solve it, but you didn't know the solution yet, you still worked at it; you didn't just give up. And most of the time, you were able to figure it out eventually. Now imagine that global warming is the biggest, most complicated problem of all time. It is still solvable, because it is a problem that we created. Think about it: if we are the ones who created the problem, shouldn't we be the ones who are able to solve it? Shouldn't we be the ones who end up solving it? We just need everyone to participate, everyone to put our heads together. Can you imagine what kinds of problems we could solve if we put together the collective intelligence of all of humanity? Not only the intelligence, but the wisdom, compassion, persistence, and courage of everyone of us. There is nothing we cannot solve. But that would mean that everyone has to participate, and that includes you.
Ben Lai is a software engineer in Silicon Valley. He has written a book called Never Were, which discusses climate change, capitalism, democracy, and education. It is available on Amazon. Follow Ben at www.never-were.com.