Courtney is the mother of a beautiful daughter; and as mothers do, she dreams of who her child will be, how her daughter will live her life, and how much her daughter’s world will have changed from the one she lives in today. Here’s to a femail on the future:
Date: Mon, Apr 15, 2017 at 7:23 PM
Subject: What About the Children?!!! (And Other Anxiety About Climate Change)
Do you ever have the existential fear that our kids or their kids could not have a planet to live on? You are a scientist and a writer and a parent and a deep thinker and a dear friend, so I thought I’d ask you about this.
It has been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it’s because of Myra or maybe it’s because I feel like our government doesn’t care or maybe it’s because I listen to too many podcasts. Most scientific projections paint a dire picture of 2100 – rising temperatures and sea levels due to greenhouse gas emissions that result in melting glaciers, entire island nations and coastal regions disappearing underwater, unpredictable weather patterns, food shortages, a rise in disease, and many, many consequences we could not imagine. And 2100 is not too far off. Two generations away from our kids.
I first started thinking about this before I became a parent. In 2013, Sheikh had an acquaintance from high school who had directed the documentary Chasing Ice. This friend was screening his movie at one of Seattle’s independent theaters, so Sheikh and I went to see it. The movie followed nature photographer James Balog on his mission to set up time-lapse cameras to capture glaciers as they receded. The results were flooring; sobering: within a period of only a few years we watched through Balog’s lens as glaciers became hardly recognizable. Some video footage captured a piece of a glacier the size of Manhattan cleaving into the waters below. The documentary provided stark visual evidence of the acceleration of our heating world and the consequences.
And in law school that same year two impressive women, recent grads, came to talk to my class on Human Rights Law. They had founded the climate justice organization Three Degrees Warmer after hosting an international conference on the issue as students. They partnered with big shots in the climate justice world, such as Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland who now runs her eponymous foundation for climate justice. They talked a lot about different scenarios should the world warm. Most importantly, they introduced to me the concept of climate refugees, people displaced by the changing climate. People from Alaska to Florida to the Maldives. To Bangladesh.
That hit home. I asked Sheikh once if his relatives still living in rural Bangladesh ever talk about climate change or worry about rising sea levels. He said they didn’t, at least as far as he knew. Their lives are there.
The other morning I heard Mary Robinson on NPR talking in her beautiful accent about nations that could be underwater in just a few years. She said she couldn’t imagine being a leader of those countries and what they must be dealing with. I had just dropped Myra off at daycare and started thinking about what I would do if my family faced displacement. The first thought was to move. But of course the people affected most and earliest by climate change are probably not in a position to easily move. As always, it would be the poorest and the most vulnerable who would become refugees, unable to preempt a crisis. Then I thought of last year, 2016, the hottest year ever recorded, and of the images of people in parts of India in 120 degree heat walking on melting roads.
Especially given these realities, it infuriates me that the Trump administration continues to deny climate change and shows no sign of continuing or implementing policies that will work to slow and halt irreversible damage. Instead, the administration has proposed deep, damaging cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, intending to completely eliminate the $70 million Climate Protection Program, cut oversight and regulation, cut state funding, cut research on harmful materials, and cut programs focused on environmental cleanup, including of the Great Lakes. Aren’t most of those programs no-brainers? I don’t see how our country, second only to China in our greenhouse gas emissions, can ignore the harm we are doing to ourselves and to others.
Glaciers melting and sea levels rising and people permanently displaced from their homes – the problems seem so daunting. And without global reversal from our current course, the science that says the effects will be dire and imminent. I derive hope from last year’s Paris Agreement and grassroots organizing and even from friends here who go hiking with their kids and teach them to compost and recycle and take the bus. But as I parent and think more about our place in history and our legacy, I worry that I am leaving Myra a planet that might not be able to support her and certainly won’t be able to support some of her more vulnerable peers.
How are you thinking about this? Do you and Charlie ever talk about it? Sheikh agrees with me, but it’s so easy to just go about our lives and not worry about it too much. It’s like how people in Seattle ignore that we could have a massive earthquake at any moment because it’s easier to do that.
Ok, sending love and cannot wait to hear more about your book project. So so excited about it!
Date: Mon, Apr 17, 2017 at 9:49 PM
Subject: What About the Children?!!! (And Other Anxiety About Climate Change)
Charlie and I talk about climate change a lot. Especially, given that we are in the oil and gas industry, albeit tangentially we are still pretty invested. There is also a large family interest in climate change since there are many geologists by trade. Effectively, they have studied historical climates and atmospheres.
I will start out, that I am concerned. I believe regulations on greenhouse gases and promotion of alternative energy is essential. I look to alternative energy as a solution and I have donated and invested as a way to try and do my part. I also see good signs coming from oil and gas companies who are investing in bio fuels and solar.
However, on a day to day basis I must admit that don’t have a whole lot of anxiety about climate change. We humans are so so small and while we are having negative impacts, we have always been at the geological worlds mercy. Literally, the volcano in Yellowstone could go tomorrow and that would be it, a huge dark cloud blocks out the sun and its over. Obviously an extreme example. The world has gone through several amazing climate transitions and I don’t feel that the period we are in now is the most severe. I care deeply about climate change, but I am more worried about people I love getting in car accidents. Admittedly I worry about that every day, and I find myself needing to take a deep breath.
Your email brought up a new point that I haven’t thought much about, environmental refugees. Given how the world is handling current political refugees, I could see environmental refugees as an enormous problem. ugh.
As part of my research for my book, I have been studying the 1850s – 1900s. This time period takes place shortly after the industrial revolution. A revolution that started our growth in emissions and is largely responsible for global warming. One of the books I am reading, Frontier Grit (highly recommend), relays the stories of 12 + frontier women. In the book people were dying left and right from disease, dumb diseases. One woman’s house burned down leaving her destitute. She found the strength to rebuild, only to have her house burned down again. Yet despite the hardships these women faced, their stories are ones of hope. It has given me such an appreciation for what we have today as a result of science and industry. Even the industrial revolution that we now disparage for its contribution to global warming, helped make our lives better. The ease of our modern lives gives me motivation to do more.
While I believe the human race is better off than we once were, that shouldn’t stop us from being pioneers in this new age and fighting for the future. I see the future as hopeful , not doomed. I think there are things that we can change, and the things we cannot change we can persevere.
*Feature Image by Kyle Ritter at Vaterlands Bro