A birthday letter

Theresa Preston-Werner

September 9 2021

Today is my 40th birthday.

And I have a cold to end all colds. I’m miserable. At least it’s not COVID; I have 3 at-home tests from the past week to prove it. But it still sucks.

Turning 40 is supposed to be a big deal. Celebrated. A time to reflect on your accomplishments, and perhaps wonder if your best years are behind you. But I’m not in that place. COVID worries have kept me home-bound. Plus, all I can think about these days is the future, how quickly time is passing, and how we (myself and everyone else) need to get our butts in gear and push like hell to ensure that the future is liveable.

This is what my home in northern California looked like one year ago, today:



That second photo is from SF. During the fires, which are happening AGAIN. Other parts of the world are facing flooding, hurricanes, droughts, and heat. This is our future. So, today all I can think about is the work ahead--and how I can contribute.

At 128 Collective, we focus on climate change, how to slow it down, and how to distribute the burden for action equitably. When I talk to friends, family, and strangers about climate, I most often hear this: “Yeah, it’s really getting bad!” and “Yeah, we’re totally screwed.”

Then they say: “But what can we do? It’s all about fixing the underlying structures,” or “We need to invest in innovation,” or “We can’t do it alone. We need global cooperation, and until China does anything, there’s no point,” or “It’s about the fossil fuel industry, and they control lobbyists, and so we’re screwed.”

People seem defeatist. Often they’re sloughing off responsibility onto others, or onto too-big-to-deal-with structures, or they’re negating their own potential power to act. “It doesn’t matter if you buy green or shut your lights off,” they think. “No individual actions matter.”

This is such bullshit.

What you do matters. Here’s what you can, and should, do:

1. Individual actions count. Everything you do matters.

Swap out your lightbulbs. Eat vegetarian. Ride public transport or pedal a bike. Take one less plane trip. Stop saying that those things don’t matter, because they do. Each time you act with the future in mind, you are contributing to a shift toward a societal zeitgeist of green living. You will feel good about your carbon footprint, and this will contribute to a general framing of your life toward contributing to caring for the planet. Imagine if we all did that.

This is the first step. Stop going around and saying that personal consumption choices don’t matter, and consequently giving yourself an excuse to continue lazy living. I’m not intending to weigh in on the causal relationship between individual actions and carbon emissions, but instead to point toward the psychological benefit of daily habits for good. Hold yourself to a higher bar, and you will become invested in the movement. But this is not enough...

2. Vote.

I wrote that individual actions count. They do, and especially when it comes to voting. Don’t get bogged down in the electoral college or gerrymandering (join organized fights against those things!), but instead read some voter guides and educate yourself on whatever issue is headed your way. And then tell your friends. One voice can multiply and, combined, they can shift the direction of a vote. You may not live in California, but I bet you have friends on FB who do. Message them. Tell them to vote NO on the recall. And tell them to vote for someone as a replacement just in case. I voted for Ventresca.

Don’t just vote in the big elections either! Nerd out about who is going to be on public utilities boards or school boards determining climate curriculum or who could be willing to go up against fossil fuel interests and will not be dissuaded. Make space for BIPOC candidates, who often represent the frontline communities experiencing the most debilitating consequences of climate change.

Once you know who to vote for, get the word out. Don’t stay quiet. Post on social media to bring name recognition to those down-ballot races. In this way, you can help build the progressive pipeline of elected officials. But voting is not enough. I know plenty of folks who love to post selfies online of themselves with the I Voted sticker. Now, it’s time to take the third step--actually do something!

3. Join a group. Take action. Fight the bad, and build the good.

Personal consumer choices will remind you every day that you are caring for the environment. Voting will feel powerful. But change can’t happen unless we organize and shift power. We must hold our elected officials accountable, protest against the fossil fuel industry and those who hold it up, and work everyday to create our own projects that contribute to the science and industry of decarbonization and a world in which those practices are the only acceptable option.

This means you should get involved in climate or get involved in progressive politics. Here’s how:

  • If you are under 40 and interested in climate and protests, check out Sunrise.
  • And, if you’re over 60 and need something to do with the next ⅓ of your life, check out Bill McKibbon’s new group.
  • If you only have 1 hour or are in tech, check out Climate Changemakers.
  • If you’re a woman and want to learn about politics and how to talk to your conservative family, try GALvanize.
  • If you want to push for progressive politics that address the entire system of social and climate justice, this is your group: People’s Action.

Those are just the few groups who are at the top of my cold medicine-filled, 40-year-old brain. There are so many more, and you can see many of the others we fund here.

To set a personal example, I’ll tell you what I’ve signed up to do, and how turning 40 has spurred my own actions. This past week:

  • I signed up for Sunrise’s training to learn more about the Civilian Climate Corp. Join me here.
  • I signed up with my 9 year old for the Burrito Project. (It’s a band-aid solution, but it’s a really excellent view for my kid into homelessness in SF, and I’ve volunteered several times before.)
  • I signed up with my 5 and 9 year olds for their school’s beach cleanup (Really looking to set a model for my kids and inspire the next generation)
  • I marked our family calendar for the Global Climate Strike.
  • And I’m writing this blog post, hoping that you all will follow my lead and sign up for some things too!

Thank you for listening. It’s been a hell of a few weeks, after a hell of a year… and a half. This news from the IPCC about our next 30 years sent me reeling. It’s been said that when people are inundated with climate horror news, they turn away and tune out due to anxiety and stress. Please don’t. Resolve to do something now. Sign up, put it on your calendar, and tell people about it. Change the zeitgeist.

-Theresa Preston-Werner

Co-founder and Managing Director, 128 Collective because Climate is Everything