By Steve Moffic
About seven years ago, I went to the local grocery store after my
granddaughter Hannah was born. As I was paying for the groceries, the
clerk asked me as usual, "Paper or Plastic?" to pack my groceries in.
But this time was different. To my surprise, I could not answer right
away because I started to wonder: what would be best for this new
baby? Did it matter to her life whether it was paper or plastic? Or,
was this a stupid question?
By now, I know the answer to that question is very important to her
and my other grandchildren, now 11, 9, and 5 years old. In fact, it is
important to all children, even if the answer is still not quite
certain. Neither plastic bags or paper bags are good for the
environment we live in. It is best to bring our own bags, but even so
we have to keep them clean so they don't get too dirty with germs that
are bad for our health. To save energy, we should wash them by hand.
But why make such a big deal out of something as simple as carrying
Recently, a 12-year-old friend of my 11-year-old grandson Noah seems
curious about why. He has become more interested in climate change and
wants to know more about it. Noah, too, has been interested. What can
I tell them?
Now, entering the teenage years is hard enough. Your body changes more
quickly. You feel different. You start to think more about what is
important in life. But now, you also have to think about how the
climate and environment we live in is changing. When I was 12, some 56
years ago, all I was concerned about as far as the climate goes was
whether it was nice enough to go outside and play.
Now it is different. Here is what I think Noah's friend and every
budding pre-teen and teenager should know.
You already have a head start in making your future better. That you
ask about climate change means you are not denying that it is changing
for the worse. Too many adults still don't believe that.
Maybe you also understand that it is people that are making our
climate get warmer than ever. How do we do that? In our desire for
more and more energy from fossil fuels like oil, we are releasing too
much carbon into the air.
What happens when too much carbon is in the air? Year by year, the
earth slowly warms. Ice melts and our water rises. The everyday
weather seems to get more unstable, causing worse storms, flooding,
and fires. All sorts of living things struggle for survival and many
die off. You may have heard of one of the animals at risk: polar
bears. In many places, farmers will have trouble growing the same
crops in the same places, so food supplies will be threatened. More
particles in the air from pollution, which is often bad in big cities,
seems to harm our brains.
These changes may mean that people may someday have to move to
different places, like the ''polar cities'' that some futurists have
talked about. Now, we are beginning to call the people who might have
to move north in the future as ''climate refugees''. Of course, some
people who now live in cold climates may even welcome warmer winters,
but most of the people in the world will not.
In other words, like we humans get a fever when we are sick, the Earth
is beginning to get a fever because the environment is getting sick.
There is a legendary experiment that shows what can happen when we
slowly warm the water. I don't think you will do this experiment at
school, but it is easy to understand anyways. If you take a living
frog and throw it into boiling water, it will jump right out. But, if
you throw a frog into warm water, it will stay there. Then, if the
water slowly warms, the frog will still stay there, hardly noticing
the change in temperature. After awhile, it will be cooked to its
death, never realizing what danger it was in.
I hope we humans don't act like frogs. That's why I wrote a letter
that was published in TIME magazine a few years back. I said that like
in that frog experiment, it would be better to use the term global
boiling instead of the less worrisome global warming. I also wrote in
the letter that as a psychiatrist, I know that is is hard for humans
to be worried about an uncertain climate 50 years from now. Our brain
is made to much more easily respond to immediate danger, like a car
coming at you or your parents threatening to punish you. It is easy
for us to deny problems that we don't want to solve or feel are too
difficult to solve.
But you and the rest of us do have the ability to overcome this
tendency and to change our behavior. What can you and all your friends
do? Ask your parents to save energy. Ask them to vote for politicians
that are concerned about the environment. Get your teachers and
schools to study climate change. Be sure to play outdoors a lot and
enjoy all that nature offers. Eat more food grown near where you live. Read the Dr. Seuss
book about The Lorax. Read in the Old Testament about how we are
supposed to take care of the earth, not to destroy it. Watch the new
cli-fi movies like ''Godzilla''. Write letters to your newspaper.
Communicate on-line with other children all over the world, for even
making changes for the better in the United States is not enough. This
is a global problem, so countries like China and India have to help,
I started to change very late in my life. I had been very wasteful up
to 7 years ago. But you can change much earlier, right now. It is your
future that is at stake!
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