My sister says she does not think her kids should have children. We are sitting at the beach under an umbrella, our feet in the sand, the small but persistent waves blocking out the sound of cars on the highway behind us so completely that I forget the road is there. I can tell by her tone she is serious; it is not hyperbole. “Don’t say that,” I say, but my silent thought is, “she is not wrong.”
Her statement is the opposite of her biological urge. And it is perhaps the most generous position a baby-loving person could have when faced with the evidence.
The scientists are telling us that by 2040 it will be too late if we do not act with drastic urgency. But they have been telling us, and telling us, and the collective we have not yet heeded them. The drought, floods, tornadoes, heat, and fires have gotten worse, gathering strength like a snowball becomes an avalanche, so what hope is there that we will act now?
I hate when my sister is right about bad things. I push back against her statement, try to convince myself that she is overreacting, as opposed to being the one of us willing to say the awful truth. My way is to try to convince myself that something not-great is actually fine. This can be a helpful, adaptive quality: Plan goes sideways? Oh, now it is a new plan! A better plan! But it is a fine line between making peace with what is or cultivating a positive attitude, and denying reality and suppressing emotions.
It feels easier to look away from the data, to numb ourselves with busy-ness and good TV and what’s for dinner and making vacation plans. And yes, these are pleasures that still exist and we must delight in them.
But to deny reality and suppress emotions is not sustainable — not for our earth or our bodies.
I would like my children to experience the human miracle of raising children if they want to. Selfishly, I want to hold those babies. And, pollyanna wishing, maybe those babies will become people who help fix things.
Maybe this is what life has always been, knowing that living is hard and carrying on with it anyway, trying to make it better. Maybe this time there are glimmers of, “oh shit, this thing IS real” that will spur a collective effort. (And smart VOTING.) Maybe that collective effort will bring about other unforeseeable benefits (less war?), seeing that we do not have a choice but to save the world and that it takes all oars rowing together.
We get up and walk toward the shoreline, stand on the cooler darkened wet sand and wait for the first rush against our feet and ankles. It is icy and elicits a shriek, a shudder, a resistance. “Stay there,” I say. “It gets better.” The wave recedes and returns, again and again, until it feels like we are a part of the ocean, that we are meant to be standing here, like the seaweed and the sandcrabs and the shells, and the water feels so good we have to drag ourselves away.
Some people may read this and believe it is pointless. That we are too late. That none of it matters. The fossil fuel industry knows this is not true. Their fear of a determined, pissed off public is why they promoted campaigns of climate denial and “individual responsibility” in the first place. They knew if people were unsure about the problem, they’d waste time fighting about it instead of mobilizing to fix it. They knew if people were confused about the solution, they’d waste time trying to change themselves and each other instead of the system.
However worse the climate crisis gets now depends on how quickly society transforms. How quickly society transforms depends on how many people demand it. The most harmful lie being spread about climate change today is not that it is fake. It’s that nothing you can do can help save the world.