Do great things

One of the things I admire about former president Obama is his ability to speak diplomatically and thoughtfully.  In his first post presidency speech a few weeks ago at the University of Chicago, he gave some advice to the young crowd and one statement in particular struck me.  He said “Worry less about what you want to be, and worry more about what you want to do”.  I think this is an interesting distinction to think about.  In society we often ask kids what they want to be when they grow up and we often hear firefighter, athlete, doctor, president, etc.  Imagine the child who says ‘I want to be a police officer’ having the self awareness and change in mindset to be able to say I want to make critical decisions, hold people accountable, and provides important services to others.  Or imagine the child who wants to be a professional athlete being able to say ‘I want to compete physically on a team that has a strong sense of comradery’. Thinking about what you want to do broadens the opportunities for success.

When I reflect on myself, it is easy to categorize myself as being an environmentalist but the reality is that what I want to do is to help ensure the sustainability of the planet for future generations and focusing on the “do” should help me maintain a more positive mental attitude (PMA as my dad refers to it).  The former president closed out the speech with “do great things” and that is a good reminder for us all. Regardless of the complications that might creep in to any situation, if you do great things with the opportunities you might not always be what you wanted to be, but you will be who you wanted to be.

Hope or despair

When originally considering names for my blog, I had briefly considered ‘green man in a red circle’, a take on my tree hugger self being flanked by some conservative republican neighbors. I quickly dismissed the name as I wanted to stay away from politics as much as possible and not make it the backdrop for my blog. I continue to want to avoid making climate change a political issue, knowing that in order to take meaningful action on protecting the environment, we need action independent of political affiliations. However, after the recent U.S. midterm election results and the somber feeling I awoke with today, it seems worthy of some reflection.

As I have said previously, I do not consider myself to be a member of any political party but knowing that many of the politicians who were just elected continue to deny the science of climate change is disheartening. A few of the pre-election debate quotes are listed below for reference:

  • “I don’t necessarily think the climate is changing” Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
  • “97% of some of the liberal scientists polled believe that humans are doing this, this is not settled science.  Just like perhaps, many of those same scientists, 97% perhaps, believe there is no God.  But they don’t know, there is no science on that, so scientists like the rest of us humans can have beliefs but that doesn’t make it science.” Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IN)
  • “Global temperatures have not risen in 15 years, so there might be climate change but we are not seeing that reflected in temperatures.” Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
  • “I, uh, googled this issue a couple of days ago and see that there are 31,000 scientists who say that human action is not causing the global warming at all.  And in fact the last 17 years there has not been global warming.  The temperature has been very stable for the last 17 years.” Steve Pearce (R-NM)

This list could go on but the point here is that the big loser in this recent election might very well be the environment. Even if the democrats had taken majority in this election, the same statement might still hold true. There has been very little meaningful action taken in the U.S. on climate change regardless of who has been in office.

This election fell on the heels of the most recent IPCC synthesis report which highlighted how the atmosphere is getting warmer as are the oceans, which are also getting more acidic. It outlined the causes (CO2 and methane) and added how natural forces have not contributed to temperature rise and how human activity is the primary culprit. It discussed in detail the impacts of sea level rise, thawing permafrost, global changes in weather patterns, plant and animal adaptation issues, human health issues, and food supply challenges. It concludes with data on what specific mitigation steps and what different levels of CO2 parts per million will mean in terms of warming and sea level rise.

So given what we know to be true about the current earth and political climates, how can we proceed with making any progress on climate change policy? The answer is the same regardless of who is in political power; stand up and speak up. No important issue in human history has ever been overcome with the shrug of the shoulders or by giving in to despair. As a people we must demand more from our leaders and this needs to be done by contacting them and ensuring your voice is heard.

The late Gaylord Nelson (Senator and Governor from Wisconsin and founder of Earth Day) once said “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around” and we need to keep that perspective and understand that the economy will mean very little should we continue to move our planet towards un-inhabitability. He also said “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” This is also very true and we need to speak up now so future generations do not loathe us.