Last summer I was in Sacramento, California for a Junior Olympics track meet. The event is held each July in venues considered to be generally cooler than most parts of the United States at that time of year. Sadly the young people were running their races in heat nearing the one hundred degree mark. While the short sprint events were not too bad, the longer distance races felt unbearable for both the runners and the spectators alike. By the end of many of the runs the contestants were vomiting and collapsing from heat exhaustion. Those of us in the stands were sweating and feeling faint even under the protection of umbrellas and canopies. The myth of milder weather in northern California exploded under the reality of climate change.
While we were visiting there fires along the roadways were a common sight. The vegetation was dry and brittle like kindling and it occurred to me that it would not take much for the whole place to go up in flames. I found myself thinking of what I would do if I were suddenly caught in a flash fire, a feeling that I had also felt a few years earlier when we traveled to southern California in our trailer. Ironically only a couple of weeks after we had returned from that vacation the area where we had been camping went up in flames.
It is apparent from droughts, hurricanes, typhoons, and other freakish natural disasters that Mother Nature is unleashing a fury unlike any in my lifetime. When I lived in San Jose, California as an eight year old the landscape was lush and green, not parched. I have watched as the forces of weather have become more and more extreme as in the destructive winds of hurricane Laura which recently devastated Lake Charles, Louisiana. I would be remiss if I simply ignored the warnings that we have been hearing from scientists about the human impact on our planet. For decades now they have insisted that we must curb the habits that are wreaking havoc on our atmosphere.
There are many among us who would decry the evidence and data regarding the heating up of the earth as just another hoax like the furor over Covid-19. They insist that we are being fooled by individuals who are crying wolf when all that is happening is a kind of adjustment that the earth has always experienced from time to time. Their arguments sound somewhat convincing until I read information and see time lapse photos from NASA scientists insisting the climate change caused by humans is real. Even my skeptical brother who is the epitome of rational thought has agreed that climate change is indeed certain. He is a man who would make doubting Thomas look like someone easily fooled with his insistence on having mathematical and scientific proof for any phenomenon and yet he tells me that we will have to find some solutions for our dilemma or face increasingly more difficult weather events in the future.
The biggest challenge that we face is the possibility of having to drastically change the way we live and behave. That does not come easily for most of us. We become accustomed to a routine of doing things and push back on the idea of having to sacrifice in some way. Just look at how many people refuse to wear masks to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 because they are uncomfortable and restricting. Asking people to raise temperature settings, convert to new forms of energy, waste less, consider new ways of living appears to be a step back in the evolution of progress. We humans like to move forward and we enjoy our cool homes and those flights to exciting places. We like our plastic water bottles and the packaging of our convenient foods even as we notice how much trash we are producing. It’s too hard to have to expend more effort on creating an all new lifestyle but it’s not so difficult to insist that we really do not need to change.
My grandparents were born about one hundred forty years ago in the nineteenth century when the Industrial Revolution was just beginning. Their early lives were hard by today’s standards. My grandfather often described his childhood noting that there was no glass in the windows of his home nor were there screens to keep insects and dust from finding their way inside. They used oil cloth tacked to the inside wall to cover the windows during the cold winters. They relied on ice blocks and underground cellars to store food in the summer. His job as a young boy was to chop wood for cooking and keeping warm. Candles and oil lamps were the only forms of light.
I doubt that we need to go back to such draconian lifestyles but certainly we can begin to think about ways to conserve our resources that taken together will have a cumulative effect. We should also be investing in scientific endeavors to create new less destructive ways of powering the world. There are many ideas out there that have the potential to revolutionize the way we live just as my grandparents witnessed over their lifetimes. We should be encouraging the inventiveness of humankind with a nod toward the future, not holding tightly to our old ways out of doubt and fear.
Our future can be bright and hopeful if we simply admit that we have a problem that must be addressed. We went to the moon because we were willing to focus on unlocking our ability to travel in space. We made incredible medical advances because we invested in research. If we have the will we can meet the challenges of climate change to make our world more inviting. Accepting that we have to do something now is not evidence of defeat but rather the kind of thinking that has moved us forward throughout history. We may not like the idea of being chided by a young girl in pigtails about the urgency of our problems but we would do well to hear what she has to say. Doing things the same way again and again even as we see evidence that we are hurting the earth is foolish. Surely we can see that it’s time to get serious about our future.