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My gift to your children’s children’s children

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

Friday, while cheering on Roaring Fork High School’s graduation parade, I was surprised to find a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. My emotional state was prompted in equal parts by civic pride, respect and terror. Let me explain those, one-by-one.

First, I’m proud of our local schools. It takes a village – actually, a town with a decent tax base – to really support K-12 schools. I received a fine education from Colorado’s public schools and despite never having had kids of my own, I’m happy to pay taxes that extend knowledge and opportunity to those who come behind me.

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Second, while graduation is an achievement for any young person, it’s even more so for those whose first language was NOT English. I’m sure that was the case for many in the parade: the gal who wore a Mexican flag as a cape; the young man who rode in a car bearing the sign reading, “My parents crossed the border so I could cross the stage.”

Hats off to both the new grads and their families. I applaud their courage and perseverance. They’re going to need those qualities. As they cross the border into adulthood, they’re facing a future that’s flat-out terrifying.

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Here in Colorado, our forests are burning. Drought is whittling away both our winters and the water supply upon which our economy depends.

Worldwide, more than a century of habitat destruction, pollution, monoculture, invasive species, over-harvesting, population growth and development have pushed nature to the brink of collapse. Sir Robert Watson, chair of the United Nations’ Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services states: “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

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The concerns that prompted me NOT to have children of my own pale in comparison. Back in the 1970s, my concern was population. I wanted to teach my kids to ski. I wanted to share silver-topped peaks, wilderness and surging oceans with them. I wanted them to enjoy fresh food, comfortable homes and peaceful lives. How could that happen if our population doubled? Six billion people competing for limited resources on one small planet would release the horsemen of the apocalypse – famine, disease, war…

Given the outsized demands each American places on the earth, giving up an un-begotten son or daughter seemed, at the time, the best gift I could give to living beings on Planet Earth.

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Despite the fact that I’m now living a rather lonely old age (no children means no grandchildren), I’m still convinced that it’s the best gift I could give to your high school grad, your grandchild, your children’s children’s children.

I rarely talk about this. Mostly, I’m uncomfortable hectoring people about personal choices.

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I do fear climate change. I have an electric car and rooftop solar panels. I eat a mostly-vegetarian diet. I have largely sworn off air travel. When I mentioned this recently to a dear friend, she was puzzled. “Because it’s a hassle with TSA and all that?” No, I explained, it’s because ONE airplane trip undermines every other good thing you do all year! A London-to-San Francisco flight emits around 5.5 tons of CO2 equivalent per person. That’s more than TWICE the emissions produced by a family car in a YEAR.

Currently, there’s a progressive backlash against taking personal responsibility for global warming because it lets business and government off the hook; some say it distracts from the systemic changes that are needed.

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I have made sacrifices mostly so I can live with my conscience and I’d gladly offer up my life if it could slow global warming. But if I were to die tomorrow, eliminating my carbon footprint ENTIRELY, earth’s other 7.9 billion humans would still go on burning down the house in which their offspring must live.

As Greta Thornberg told us adults, “Our house is on fire! … I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”

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My personal acts are meaningful only if they can inspire others to change. So, on behalf of your kids, I’m asking you to take both personal and political action. Perhaps you could eat more vegetarian meals? Or perhaps you could call Governor Polis and ask him to sign Colorado’s SB 200 climate bill? Or forgo that airline flight in favor of driving to somewhere in North America?

None of those things are all that hard. It’s not like I’m asking you to give up your first-born child.

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In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Tags: #carbon footprint #children #climate change #population
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