As I write to you this day after the most exciting election in my 43 years, I want to thank you. You have inspired not only the people of the United States but of the entire world. You weave a beautiful story of hope for people who have become tired and cynical and jaded by political rhetoric.
Here are some of my hopes.
I hope that while we’re talking of “restoring prosperity” and “putting our people back to work” we’re also working to change the fundamental basis on which prosperity is measured. Is the American Dream the pursuit of newer and bigger houses and cars and the latest gadgets? Higher consumption of the earth’s resources? Is that what healing the economy means?
Or can we change our language to encourage deeper American values? Voluntary simplicity? Sustainable living? Connections among people over material wealth? The world cannot afford for us to continue trashing the planet as we have been. And as someone with the great ability to use words to inspire hope and change, you are in a unique position to change the course of our imaginations and help us redefine how we measure prosperity.
We need jobs, of course. Let’s make them green and inclusive of all segments of society. Van Jones has offered a beautiful plan in his book, The Green Collar Economy. Let’s create an economy that measures not only dollars in the bank but also the satisfaction that one’s work is helping to sustain life on the planet.
We want to feel secure, of course. Let’s create the security of knowing that we are not creating a terrible mess today for our children to deal with tomorrow. To that end, I urge you to attend the U.N. Climate meetings in Poland this December and promise that the U.S. will lead the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping other developing nations to do the same.
We all want access to healthcare. Let’s also take care of the health of our planet, which ultimately affects the health of us all. Right now, there is an area in the North Pacific Ocean greater than the size of Texas that is filled with plastic. Marine researchers describe it as a “plastic soup.” And the plastic didn’t just come from vessels dumping their waste at sea. No, the plastic comes from you and me and everyone who has ever used and thrown away plastic products.
Plastic lasts forever. It mimics food for multitudes of marine animals who eat the plastic and feed it to their young. It migrates up the food chain into the fish that we ourselves eat, including toxic chemicals that accumulate on its surfaces. Plastic is a great invention and can also be a great threat to the healthcare and security of humans and animals on this planet.
Thousands and thousands of individuals are working to make changes in our own lives to protect the earth, to consume less, and to choose less toxic alternatives, like avoiding plastics, but we are not enough to solve these types of environmental problems. We need our government to hold companies responsible for the full life cycles of the products they produce, we need stricter regulations against toxic products, and we also need a national mindset that encourages consumers to cut back on disposable products and look to what is durable and energy-efficient and timeless.
Protecting the planet is about more than cutting emissions, although that seems to be the big focus of the moment. We also need to cut our consumption and change our priorities. As president, you can set policies in that direction. But we also need you to use your powerful skills of language to light up our minds and show us the value in simple, sustainable, compassionate living.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done so far and all you will do in the next four years. You’ve asked me to hope. Some of my hope is in your hands.
Elizabeth G. Terry