I remember the moment I first realized that The Environment was a thing and that we needed to protect it.
See that thing? The POTUS cares zero percent about that thing. That thing sustaining his life. And all of our lives. So that's swell. (Image Source: National Geographic)
I was nine, and my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Knox, was a staunch environmentalist. She taught us about the new recycling center in our small town and encouraged us to recycle at home. She taught us about the impact humans have had on the environment, about things we could do to help, about how every little commitment can lead to big changes. She taught us that we have to take care of our planet, just like we have to take care of each other.
As a class, we wrote new lyrics to the Bobby McFerrin song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and changed it to "Don't Pollute, Recycle." We held a parade in our elementary school, marching through the classrooms singing our song about environmental responsibility with glee and vigor, all while gathering recycling from the other classes so Mrs. Knox could deliver it to the recycling center. We learned science by exploring our planet and the way humanity has altered it, to its detriment. We learned to be thoughtful, careful humans. To understand that actions have consequences. That some things cannot be undone.
As we listen to the death knell ringing inexplicably across the globe, so many of us are thinking: "How? How could this happen?"
But we know how this happened. Our country is currently under the charge of a man who has never truly had to deal with consequences. He makes this decision knowing he will never truly have to deal with it, because by the time the damage is irrevocablely done... he'll be dead.
I have a family member who once expressed this same disregard for the planet and the people--our children--living on it. He said, "I don't care about the environment; I'll be dead."
And this is how I imagine the POTUS looking at things. The ramifications do not apply to him and, therefore, they are unimportant. Just like Black Lives Matter and the rampant racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia plaguing our country. Just like women's rights, or LGBTQIA+ rights, or immigrant rights. If it doesn't help him directly and immediately... fuck it.
But what happens when people lead this way?
We know. We know what happens. All we have to do is pick up any great work of literature. Read any dystopian novel. Watch any science fiction movie. We know. We already know.
So how is it still happening?
How did we become so selfish, so self-absorbed, so exclusively interested in instant gratification and winning at all costs?
I understand how one person can be so privileged and entitled and bigoted... but how did we get to a point that so many of us are okay with that? When did we become comfortable putting the almighty dollar above a human life?
I don't have an answer to that, but I know it terrifies me. I know that I am very, very afraid every time I read the news and hear of the latest atrocities committed by or helped by or started by or egged on by our current president.
I know that what Mrs. Knox taught me--that we have to care about our environment and our people and that our actions have very real and lasting consequences--are values our president lacks. And I know that all of us are going to have to pay for it.
In the meantime, the rest of us are going to have to pick up the slack. We're going to have to act like 4-year-olds. We're going to have to use the curiosity and attentiveness and empathy that our kids display so very often and we're going to need to use that to find solutions to these grave problems. We're going to have to do the little things, recycling bottles and cans and composting our sandwich crusts and turning off the water while we brush our teeth, while we figure out how to do the big things.
We can follow the lead taken by a group of American leaders who are unwilling to live with the president's decision. This group, currently made up of three governors, 30 mayors, over 80 university presidents and over 100 businesses, has promised to do everything it can to meet the greenhouse gas emission targets. We can double down on our environmental efforts and do everything we can to try and help.
We're going to have to take the shame so many of us are feeling about this thoughtless, irresponsible presidency and administration and turn it into action. We're going to have to protect our planet, our environment, our people... because he won't. We 're going to have to march around, like I once did in my elementary school, and encourage and bolster and help with making a difference one little step at a time.
We cannot afford to be lazy. We cannot afford to think only of ourselves. We cannot afford to think only of our lifetime. We have to help, however we can. For our children and for our world.
Smarties, as France's President Macron said: We need to make the planet great again.