Which side are you on?

This past week was a perfect illustration of how many compelling distractions there are to the main business at hand.

After all, it’s much more interesting to focus on the good news of a Supreme Court blessing for gay marriage, or to follow the spy-novel intrigue of the Edward Snowden case, or to watch President Obama set foot in the tiny prison cell that kept Nelson Mandela captive for 18 years—much more fun than thinking seriously about the elephant in the room, climate change.

I was happy, and somewhat astonished, to see Obama finally seize that elephant by the tusks and deliver a speech that acknowledged how important climate change will be to our collective, planetary future.

Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

In the speech, Obama declared that “the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science — of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements — has put all that to rest. Ninety-seven percent of scientists…have now…acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.

“So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren.

“As a President, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.

“I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing. And that’s why, today, I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a leader — a global leader — in the fight against climate change.”

To me what’s most important in this speech is that way that the President is appealing to the country as a father. 

Those of us who are parents know that there is no higher priority for us than the welfare of our children.

We practically kill ourselves to provide for our children.  We go into debt to buy them high-quality food, medical care and education.  We go without so that they can have whatever it is that they need.

We would never knowingly feed them poison.  We would never knowingly do something that would undermine their future.

And yet, let’s be honest: most of us are doing just that, all the time, every day.

If you buy your kid a fast-food meal, you are contributing to the Monsantification of the world.

If you drive your car, heat your house with fossil fuels, or run your air conditioner, you are contributing to the super-heating of the atmosphere.

The vaunted American lifestyle is the problem.  President Obama didn’t quite come out and say so in his speech, but it’s not hard to read between his carefully calibrated lines and see what he is implying.

“Someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don’t you want that?”

Yes, of course we all want that.

We don’t want to end up shivering and starving in a blighted, devastated world, knowing that it was our own greed and short-sighted stupidity that brought us to this point of no return.

If we care about our own dear children, we need to make improving our relationship with the planet a priority.

That means no more poisons, no more GMO food, no more fossil fuel extraction at the expense of the natural environment, no more heedless burning our way to kingdom come.

As the President said, “those of us in positions of responsibility, we’ll need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of posterity. Because you and your children, and your children’s children, will have to live with the consequences of our decisions.”

Will have to live or die with the consequences of our decisions, that is.

Are you willing to condemn your grandson or granddaughter to a short, miserable existence on Earth, brought to a rapid end by climate-induced super-storms or famine?

I’m sorry to be so bald about it, but these are the stakes.

Which side are you on?  And what are you willing to do to ensure that future generations on this planet have a chance to enjoy the abundance and beauty that we and our parents have taken for granted?

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4 Comments

  1. Gerry

     /  June 30, 2013

    What am I “willing to do to ensure that future generations on this planet have a chance to enjoy the abundance and beauty that we and our parents have taken for granted?”

    Unfortunately, I am not 100% sure that we can ensure such a future. But I do think it is important to make a big effort to work towards as good a future as possible.

    I have not owned a car since 2000, I rely on my bicycle and public transit for most of my transportation, and occasionally ride in a car with others. I have not flown in a plane since 2003 because flying is a major contributor to GHGs. We have solar panels on our roof. I participate in 350.org and citizenclimatelobby.org activity. I occasionally write to my Congress people and the president, and the editors of local papers. I have made contributions to some candidates who are serious about taking actions against climate change, (nearly all have been Green).

    I am considering some civil disobedience, but I don’t really know what I’ll do. I do consider Tim DeChristopher a hero. I strongly recommend watching this 12 and 1/2 minute video:
    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/06/27/2217921/tim-dechristopher-on-letterman-stop-and-think-about-what-it-means-to-be-too-late/ . I found it inspiring. One part in particular impressed me the most. He asked himself if he could live with the consequences of taking action vs. not taking action. After some thought, he concluded he could live with the consequences of taking action (civil disobedience) and he could not live with the consequences of not taking action.

    For more info about Tim DeChristopher:
    http://www.bidder70.org/
    http://www.peacefuluprising.org/
    http://www.bidder70film.com/ (currently down, I hope it will be back soon).

    As to how much effort the world should take … I think that home sapiens should make an effort comparable to what the world did to fight World War II. It’ll cost less than living with the consequences of lesser action.

    Gerry
    (living in San Francisco Bay Area)

    Reply
  2. This is such a timely plea, Jennifer. Climate change has already altered our world, beyond repair I believe. It affects our water supply, our food chain, our health. Soon it will erode our coastlines. It already threatens the existence of a number of small island nations. I wish I could hold our president up, like you do, as an example of someone who advocates for change–as a public official, or as a father. I have no doubt that his intentions are good. But in just about every area, from climate change to energy to war to gun control to education to poverty to healthcare… and on and on, he has proved himself incapable of transforming those intentions into solid progress. It is a sad commentary on this country’s political life that the leader in whom we deposited such hope has turned out to be the lesser of two evils.

    Reply
  3. This is the question of our generation – what are we willing to do to ensure a better future?
    It is a difficult question and even when people are truly committed to changing how they live, it is complicated to figure out to make changes that actually make a difference. I know how to make small changes, but the really big changes that will make the biggest difference seem almost impossible some time. I care for my 98 year old mother who lives with me. I have to keep the house cooler than I would for myself and in the winter I have to keep it warmer than I would. I try to save water and electricity with choices about cooking, and laundry. I could go on, but the point I am trying to make is that even for those of us who recognize the necessity of change, some of our life choices make it very difficult to do the things we know we should. I am still trying to figure it all out, but I think raising awareness is a crucial thing that we can all do.
    I hope my book does some small part in raising awareness.
    Jan

    Reply
  4. Carole Spearin McCauley

     /  July 1, 2013

    dear Jenny, Glad to read your blog here and the responses of your readers. My mother, her large French-Canadian family and I grew up poor in Housatonic and Lee and well know what poverty can do–little care about the environment, hand-down shoes that don’t fit right and cause lifelong foot problems, food that’s mostly starches, no dental care, women and girls seen as mainly servants.. Some of us never enjoyed sufficient abundance ever to take it for granted! Good wishes from Carole. Thanks for all you do for Lean In group and for Berkshire Women Writers Festival.

    Reply

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