“We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, ..for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread.” -the Laudato si’ Pope Francis.
“My message is we’ll be watching you.” Greta Thunberg
Michigan in late April, and it’s always the same question: Will it snow? It did, on Tuesday, two weeks after we had a string of hot summer days at the beginning of the month, 80 degree days. In short, no springtime. It’s now well understood that this is the erratic behavior of a climate in turmoil, not “the weather” as a friend of mine, a denier, dismissively calls it. With it we’ll see longer, colder winters as well as hotter, drier summers. Precisely the type of real-world issue that the thought-lemmings of the reactionary right fail to understand or would have us dismiss. Issues of real moral urgency, which threaten a hectic routine or personal complacency, are treated like fictions, and climate change somehow tops the list. It would take a Texas snowfall in July before they’d see things clearly and even then, they’d deny it. Echoing the rubbish opinions of their former circus tent leader, they claim, “It’s freezing outside—where the hell is ‘global warming’?”
My generation, bred as it is to the indulgence of convenience at all costs and the democratization of luxury above all else, is the biggest culprit in this. The Worst Generation, we had everything given to us. More than this, we lived through the Cold War as well. Having been conditioned to living on the rim of doomsday, some of us adopted the notion that all that matters is short-term gain and the selfish self-centered rights of the individual. Tangentially, these are the same people that seem to oppose mask wearing and the vaccine. And if these rights happen to come at the expense of future generations or other people nearby or far away, then so be it. A climate debate barely stands a chance against such harsh and nihilistic short-sightedness.
For less than the price of a bottle of spring water and for as long as we choose to have it, the corporate energy sector will pull crude oil from the ground, process it, and place it right at our feet. And they will do this until there is no more oil left in the ground. Studies show, however, that, properly managed and accompanied by mass reforestation, the planet could just cope. But sacrifice will always be required. We absolutely will not survive if we do the same with coal, for example, and it’s a false nationalism to think so. This is not techno-utopianism; it’s pragmatism. The US has always led the way in societal trends, for better or worse. We promoted a global desire for McMansions and the SUV, for quick money, and suburban expansionism, but in the climate issue, one in which we can finally see our own future, we have to lead the way. Optimism and a desire for change are the only options.
From the moment we wake up and light up our screens, a portion of coal, no matter how minute, is being burned into the atmosphere. Every time I cart a load of cardboard to the recycling center or debate the higher price of a green detergent, I’m beleaguered by the notion that action is futile. But as with all struggles that involve ethics or morality, I’m reminded that the right behavior is often simply that behavior based in good intentions, the simple pragmatic desire for change. Our only defense in this difficult and seemingly fruitless undertaking is to press on, and indeed to be ethical about it. This is to say, no amount of progressive action is too little, because it represents hope for change, all the while reminding us that the arch enemy of progress continues to be denial.
When you have family and the occasional friend who tread on these issues without concern, the obligation to speak out runs deeper than normal. I may have many more sensible friends and family, however, and these are people to whom I’m accountable for a prevailing opinion. Nieces and nephews, cousins, uncles and aunts, some of whom will inherit what their elders left behind. In the meantime, springtime and autumn, those happiest of times here in the Midwest, seem to have vanished.
In politics as in love, denial may simply be an annoyance, but in the context of climate change, it is not only deadly; it’s a disaster. That much said, this post is addressed to the deniers. As I say, you know who you are. We all know.
Earth Day, 2021