Turn and Face the Strange Changes

Parents Facing Climate Change

by Julie at ProgressiveKidfluorescent lightbulb

Now that the mainstream media have finally acknowledged climate change as a newsworthy topic, still not as pressing as the minutiae of Britney Spears’ tragicomic personal life, but worth covering nonetheless, the precarious state of our home planet is on peoples’ minds these days more than ever. For parents, especially ones with active imaginations, the future is more than an abstract mental projection shrouded in a fog of anxiety. For those of us who have educated ourselves about the current and probable future realities of climate change, imagining life for our children and their children is fearful territory.

Will there be fresh water? Will there be birds and butterflies? Will there be streams with salmon and bears to eat them? Will the fertile American Midwest dry up? Will coral reefs die and the oceans collapse? Will Manhattan be underwater? Will the Netherlands float away? Will world economies cease to function? Will millions of human refugees crisscross the planet searching for food, water, and safe haven? Will I have to buy a gun and teach myself and then my daughter how to shoot it?

If I sound hyperbolic, I’m not. I’ve done my research, and everything I’m imagining has been predicted by smart people who know far more than I do about such matters. Will it happen? Well, it’s already happening. Plant and animal species are dying out daily. The last of the tropical rainforests are being leveled to raise fast food beef. Monsoons are hitting Europe. Algal blooms are killing shellfish. Polar bears are drowning. Pine beetles are chewing up forests. And the Chinese are buying SUVs in droves.

If I sound discouraged, I am. Places like The Nature Conservancy and Greenpeace and people like Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, and Al Gore have been telling us this stuff for years. Many of us have fought the good fight at home, in schools, and along the political front lines to protect life on Earth and change business as usual. Remarkably, every major country in the world agreed not long ago to lower carbon dioxide emissions by signing the Kyoto Treaty except for the United States and Australia. Yes, the world would be a different place if the Supreme Court hadn’t appointed George W. Bush president of the United States in 2001. But it is all water under the bridge, as they say, or in this case water flooding over the bridge and washing it away in a wrathful torrent delivered by Mother Earth against the sins of her children.

It would be great to hit a rewind button and splice in a different version of the film a little ways back in the story. It would be a version where we came to our senses and curbed the population explosion a century or two ago. We decided to leave fossil fuels deep in the ground where they belong and tapped into clean energy from the sun and wind instead. The combustion engine was never invented or was quickly recognized as a polluting scourge on the planet and summarily retired. Communities did not lose themselves scattered along highways but rather organized into self-sustaining interconnected groups that trade food, goods, childcare, family, and friendship. And even longer ago in the story, human animals would have hewed to the enlightened recognition that we are no better, no more important, or no more deserving of Earth’s bounty than other life forms, from ferns to fungus, goats to gadflies. We would have, in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “tend[ed] our planet.”

But here we are, and this is not a movie. Our kids need us. They want to live and have their own kids, and this is the world they will do it in. This means that we, grownups and parents, need to wake up right now and get to work. It means we need to change our minds about the relative importance of our familiar, comfortable lifestyle versus the survival of life on this planet. The laws of physics dictate that where energy is consumed, equal energy must be generated to replace it. We have been living in defiance of basic natural law, taking more than our share and not giving enough back in return. We need to change the way we live to right that wrong.

When I say we need to change, I don’t mean changing incandescent lightbulbs to fluorescent ones, although that’s a start. We need to think bigger and braver and bolder and deeper. It’s great to find a way to reduce our drain on the grid, but what really needs to happen is the grid itself needs to be reimagined. We all need to work to restore the natural balance our species lost a while back, in our personal lives and public life. From composting to putting out bat boxes to organizing a neighborhood ivy pull to starting a community clean energy program to installing solar panels to gardening on the roof to moving to a smaller house to commuting by bike to cutting out chemical cleaning products to buying organic food and clothes to supporting local farms and businesses to helping local wildlife to sharing childcare to fighting for political reforms to educating our friends and family, we need to act in every way we can, big and small, right now.

And, as you change your lightbulb, plant your garden on the roof, and run for political office, talk to your kids about everything you know and get them involved. They need your help, your knowledge, your commitment, your courage, and your faith. And they will love you for it.

©2007 ProgressiveKid. May not be reprinted or redisplayed without permission.

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