At the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, shortly before my 13th birthday, there was a widespread sense that Americans finally were beginning to value the earth, to understand its essential role in sustaining life, and to demand actions to keep those support systems healthy. It was an era when there was enough bipartisan agreement to pass major, much-needed legislation to clean our air and water, to clean up toxic waste, to protect endangered species and preserve large wild areas that are important both for their beauty and their biodiversity.
What the hell has happened? Our federal government is now under the complete control of the only major political party in the entire world that denies the reality and urgency of human-caused climate change. It doesn’t matter to the GOP that every national academy of science supports the conclusions made by roughly 97 percent of the thousands of scientists around the world who have followed more than 26,000 different lines of evidence. They deny it. They refuse to face reality, even when their refusal risks civilization itself. They are busily installing deniers in every branch of government, typically people who have worked for decades in the fossil fuel industries. And they are doubling down on the fossil fuels that threaten to destroy industrial civilization and half or more of all species, for the sake of short term profits for the wealthiest people in the world. Sheer evil. When they call their party “pro-life” they slap the face of the Creator they claim to worship.
For the fossil fuel industry and all the other extractive industries, Earth Day in the Trump era of the GOP means this: “When you’re a corporation, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab Mother Earth by her virgin resources. You can do anything.”
And after 48 years of Earth Days, 20 percent of American adults say they have heard nothing about it. Of those who actively participate in it, only 13 percent think it has had much impact. All that initial promise has evaporated into the thin air of American materialism.
So I was happily surprised today to read a letter written by a 16-year-old high school sophomore in Seattle, Jamie Margolin, published by CNN. She speaks pure truth in the face of a culture steeped in denial. Margolin addresses her letter to the nation’s leaders, and starts by calling them out for failing her generation, because “when faced with the choice of fossil fuel money for your campaigns, or the wellbeing of your children, you pick fossil fuels.”
That is absolutely true. Margolin continues:
Please save your phony Earth Day tweets and Facebook posts, I don’t want to see them. Put those in a bag along with your toothless “thoughts and prayers” tweets for hurricane victims and dump them in the ocean just like you permit corporations to dump their waste.
Because my generation is so done with your talk.
I’m a 16-year-old sophomore in high school. I have my whole life ahead of me, and there’s so much I want to do….
But I have to come to terms with the fact that all of the above very well may not happen: because I’m growing up in the early 21st century, a time when the world and all its life systems are falling apart. Climate change has loomed over my every life decision, every time I try to plan for the future.
When I think of the future, I can’t assume stability or safety. When I think of adulthood, I see my home being flooded, I see deathly heat waves, droughts, famine and intense, deadly storms.
I see insects, allergens, and diseases spreading to places where they shouldn’t naturally be. I see countless people dying from toxic drinking water, food full of chemicals, and air thick with pollutants. I see millions upon millions of refugees fleeing homes in regions that have become uninhabitable. I see wars and conflict over dwindling resources.
She is absolutely right about this. She is correctly reading the signs of the times, and paying attention to the experts who have spent decades studying climate change. But her elders are not, and they are failing her and all the young, who will grow old in a world increasingly destabilized by the economic desperation, civil strife, diseases and deaths that the adults of today could significantly lessen, if we would only listen and choose wisely.
“There’s never been a time in my life when the scientific consensus was not that humans were changing the earth’s climate,” says Margolin.
No, I’m with Jamie Margolin. We have failed–make that betrayed–her generation. And she rightfully reads the riot act:
You are leaving my generation with a world that is unlivable.
Every time you take a donation of fossil fuel money, undo environmental regulations, side with polluters, or approve new fossil fuel infrastructure, you are ensuring that your children’s lives are full of “ifs.”
You have the power to save your kids. You have the power to tackle the defining issue of our time head on. But you’ve chosen not to. The first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging, and you can’t even manage to do that. You’re still in the pockets of corporations digging our destruction.
Every adult has the power to protect the lives of the little ones of today. We can do that by lessening our consumption, including that of fossil fuels. If enough of us do that, it will help buy a little time to make the absolutely necessary yet daunting transition of our power infrastructure away from fossil fuels to renewable, carbon-free forms of energy such as solar and wind. But while our individual efforts are morally laudable, they will not be nearly sufficient. It will require the commitment of every level of government. Right now, that’s almost impossible because one party refuses to budge from its denial of reality. That leaves morally responsible adults with one choice, for now: vote out EVERY Republican at every level of government until the party finally faces reality and begins actively pursuing real solutions to lessen the strength of the devastating storm heading our way. The nation will benefit by having both political parties fully engaged, pursuing a variety of strategies.
Today’s children don’t care which party’s ideas to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios are implemented. They simply want a chance to live a decent life, and right now one party stands in their way and acts as if they are the enemy. As their generation moves into adulthood, they will throw that party out of power. Indeed, they will throw out of power even many Democrats, because too many Democrats have shown little courage and in effect have offered little more than “thoughts and prayers.” They, too, despite accepting the science, are sentencing future generations to a terrible struggle. Unfortunately, by the time Margolin’s generation achieves power, it will be too late for meaningful action. It’s up to us, and time is exceedingly short.
The youth have every reason to be disgusted with older Americans, and they are doing what they can to stop our sinful recklessness. Margolin is involved with the Youth Climate March that will be held in Washington, D.C. on July 21. She’s also one of a group of 21 youth suing the federal government for failing to act on the overwhelming evidence. For failing her generation. The group recently made it through contested legal challenges and their case will go to trial on October 29th.
I hope they win. Indeed, I pray with all my heart that they win, because after 48 Earth Days we are in far deeper trouble than most Americans recognize, and there is an evil alliance of politicians, pundits and fossil fuel companies lying about facts that mean life-or-death for hundreds of millions and possibly billions of people in the centuries ahead, and most of the rest of life on earth.
You cannot be pro-life and also support fossil fuels. It’s that simple. Either we face that reality, or we condemn the children of today and many future generations.
Photo: Creative Commons license; credit niekverlaan at Pixabay.