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Climate Change: Our Moment to Do Something Great (and Difficult)

As we’ve examined the science behind climate change, the politics standing in the way of doing something about it, and the shifting attitudes of the American populace, you may be asking what, if anything, can you do about it? When entire industries or even entire nations – like China or India who make up almost half of the world’s population – don’t seem willing to do anything about it, what good does your hybrid car and four pounds of recycling each week actually do?

When taken alone and individual household’s carbon output, offset, or whatever is statistically insignificant in when looking at the larger mosaic that makes up climate change. In American mythology, we love the story of the single person whose dedicated actions and passion in a cause changes the whole world. Although, it’s highly unlikely this will happen either.

So why even bother? Why turn off the air conditioner? Iit’s not your fault the planet is warming, so why be uncomfortable? Why recycle? It just lets some other company make money off of your trash. Or ask the real question: if it doesn’t make a difference why do anything at all?

I admit to not caring much about the climate or the environment for most of my life. I wasn’t opposed to environmentalism, in fact it seemed to make sense that we take care of the planet and nature as best we could. However, I also wasn’t passionate about those feelings so I mostly tuned out the discussion. What turned me around is also the biggest cliché out there for taking climate action: the children. Well, in my case, it was my daughter.

Writing full-time has allowed me to work mostly from home for the past few years. My daughter saw me pecking away at the keyboard all hours of the day and, because most kids are helpless copycats, she decided to start her “own” blog.

Her cause célèbre was raising awareness about the declining wolf population out west. From a very young age my daughter has been passionate about the animals and nature. For the past five years, she has lived in a rural neighborhood, has become a staunch vegetarian, and has insisted on proselytizing about her passions. For me, it stuck. I am not perfect, but I make the effort to do all I can that’s environmentally conscious.

Sure, I tried to inspire her to stay active, but lately she has been getting angry about how ineffective she feels when she thinks about the bigger picture (although, being almost-13 may have something to do with that as well). It’s something every environmentalist can sympathize with, because living “green” is hard.

My grandmother was comically suspicious of technology, although somewhat prescient about it. She called computers and the internet “the devil’s work,” and given the cultures of nosiness, outrage, and meanness that thrive out here…she may have been right. She lived through the Great Depression as a young adult (although, at the time, it was pretty much adulthood). I used to ask her for stories about how difficult it was – striving through suffering is another of America’s great mythological traditions – but she always disappointed.

She would often tell me about how good she had it during those dark empty days before World War II gave America back its focus. The things she described still sounded awful, but her positive spin on the stories didn’t give me the melancholy I was looking for. There was no “uphill both ways” with her. Now, I realize that it wasn’t revisionist optimism that colored her stories, but pride.

Making it through the Great Depression with anything at all was something remarkable. People like my grandmother and those who had it worse had learned something about their own capabilities, their own strength and discipline. They did the hard thing and the right thing, and found some satisfaction.

The inconveniences that will come from both large-scale climate action and individual effort may be, as the skeptics say, a self-imposed hardship that will change the economies of entire states. There is no guarantee that simply because we desire an alternative to fossil fuels that a cost-effective answer will be found quickly. A few years in, we may  all have that anger of a 13 year-old, pining for what we gave up and melancholy because our sacrifice hasn’t been immediately rewarded.

This will be our hard thing we have to do. It is also the right thing do. And, on the other side of it, we will have that same feeling that forced a smile on my Grandmother’s face every time she spoke of the Depression. On the other side of her struggle, her generation took us from the Great Depression into the greatest period of prosperity this country has ever known. This time, we’re bringing the whole planet with us.

First, like me, you should spend your time reading and learning about these issues. Read books and articles, if possible find someone knowledgeable and ask all the questions you can. It can be difficult to separate bias from fact in issues like these (which I have done my best to do for you here), but there is no Platonic ideal of objectivity. In fact, I am telling this story to put my bias-cards out on the table in plain view.

Second, do all the small things you can: recycle, walk or bike whenever possible, conserve electricity. Don’t litter. Don’t try to be a paragon of environmentalism; be humble. Quiet dignity is the most enviable kind and will inspire others to follow your lead. We are all part of the Earth’s ecosystem. The ants don’t spend time wondering if the bees are slacking off on their duties. Do what you can, not to inspire envy or admiration, but do it simply because you must.


Image by Daryl Toh Liem Zhan via Tumblr

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.