Earlier this year, I spent a few days, all too short, with my mother. At the time, I didn’t know she was dying, or at least I didn’t want to acknowledge it. She was frail, yes, but she was also tough. She’d pull through.
I ignored the signs that now seem obvious. How she shivered uncontrollably even after we turned up the heat. How she refused meals. How she got incredibly short of breath just getting out of bed. It’s hard to watch the demise of a loved one, and so I denied it.
During my lifetime, there have been ample signs that the earth can’t withstand forever the pressures of the industrial age. America’s national bird, the bald eagle, nearly went extinct. Lake Erie — or more precisely, the river that flowed into it — caught fire. Smog shortened life spans. Acid rain corroded buildings.
None of these problems fixed themselves. Our elected officials devised regulations, and we had to adjust. No more spraying DDT on pesky insects, no more flammable sewage, new emissions controls on cars and smokestacks. But everyone benefited from the results — clean air, clean water, safe soils and rivers that don’t burn.
During these same decades, our environment was also straining under a climate crisis caused primarily by too much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, much of it generated by us humans. Starting decades ago, scientists warned of the consequences. Acidifying waters would hurt fishermen. Ecological disruptions would kill the trees on which loggers depend. Droughts would threaten farmers and ranchers. Rising oceans would flood coastal communities.
But unlike burning rivers and smog-ridden air, the climate crisis was hard to see, the problem complex and hard to grasp. After many orchestrated and heavily financed attempts at denial, we now understand the urgency. We know the sorts of actions, personal and legislative, that would help.
Still, it’s easier to tell ourselves it’s someone else’s problem — people in China or India or anywhere but here — when in actuality, the U.S. has for decades led the world in cumulative carbon dioxide emissions. It’s easier to tell ourselves that nothing we do in our own nation or state or community or home will make a difference.
Here in Oregon, certain politicians and wealthy business owners are making climate change into a wedge issue. They’re spending big bucks —$120,000 and counting — into trying to divide us in a campaign they’ve ironically tagged as “unity.” In this well-financed them-vs-us effort, they’re spinning lies about proposed legislation. They’re pretending that everything that could be done to address the climate emergency is already being done. They’re pointing fingers and trying to make it seem as if no one cares about hard-working Oregonians except timber and trucking companies.
As a woman who owns my own business, I value every penny I earn. I don’t want the cost of anything to go up — not the cost of shipping or paper or gas. Anyone who knows me would laugh at the idea that I live high on the hog.
But facts are facts. We can’t afford to do nothing. Oceans are warming, sea levels rising. Drought is forcing people from their home countries, causing a refugee crisis. Crop pests are thriving. Bark beetles are devastating millions of acres of forest. Corals, shellfish and phytoplankton, the essential base of our ocean’s food chain, are increasingly at risk. Warming temperatures threaten our food supplies, driving up costs.
As elected officials in our communities, our state, and our nation listen to stakeholders and propose solutions, we can be assured there will be no perfect answers. With some will come sacrifice. Ideally, the burden would fall mostly on those who’ve made their fortunes at the expense of our planet, the same big businesses and wealthy CEOs who happily invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to divide us when we most need real unity.
I value hard work and responsibility. I value family and freedom and my rural community. I value nature. For myself and my children and my grandchildren, I refuse to stand by and do nothing while we humans cause irreversible damage to the planet.
We’re not helpless. Nor are we on our own. We have each other. But we must reject the attempts of big-moneyed interests to divide us.
When we lose a loved one, as I lost my mother this year, we’re reminded of how brief a time we have on this earth. Our legacy is in how we take care of those we love and in the changes we’re willing to make to preserve the values we share. We are living through a defining moment. It’s time to put aside ginned-up differences and work toward meaningful solutions.