About six months before COVID-19 changed our world forever, I was house sitting in Albuquerque, NM. Somehow I learned there was to be a Climate Strike demonstration.
Gee, I thought, it’s been a while since I’ve taken to the streets in support of a good cause. I’ll go to soothe my guilt for not being very politically active for years. It’ll make me feel useful. Quickly I persuaded an 85-year-old friend, Barbara, to keep me company.
That was September 20, 2019. Unbeknownst to me, I was joining in a world-wide event inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who a few months later was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Honestly, I’d heard her name, but I knew nothing of her story.
And I certainly had no inkling that demonstration would change my life.
It did. It woke me up like a blow on the head by a 2”X4”. Or at least a stinging slap to my face.
But back to the park where the demo was held: Barbara and I wandered around. I photographed interesting signs, listened with half an ear to speech after poem after rap, appreciated the ethnic diversity of this city, and marveled that high schoolers from all over Albuquerque spoke with such polish, poise, passion, and clarity.
And then I heard, “We have ten years. That’s it. If we don’t reduce the accumulation of carbon particles in the atmosphere in that time, humanity is doomed, civilization is played out. We don’t have a future.”
I felt slugged. Really? That couldn’t be. By 2030? Just ten years, plus or minus, and our chance of saving the planet is gone? Surely that’s someone’s scare tactic. That’s no time at all! Why didn’t somebody tell me?
I could not believe that I—an educated, thoughtful, newspaper-reading senior citizen—missed the most urgent news of the 21st century: we’re almost toast!
About six weeks thereafter, I still wondered whether that ten-year prediction was accurate. I moved from ABQ for a month to a house sit in beautiful Steamboat Springs, CO. There, one of the home owners who was on her way to the Galapagos Islands, left a copy of Rachel Maddow’s Blowout! on a table.
I picked it up and read it. It’s a long book. But Rachel is a smart writer with impeccable research skills and a taste for irony and understatement. And I learned that, indeed, there is incredible urgency for stopping the extraction of oil and gas and use of fossil fuels.
I learned how Exxon-Mobile is in bed with the rapacious king of tiny Equatorial Guinea in Africa; and the American oil behemoth has multi-year contracts with him to extract oil from his country’s land and make him richer than god, as his people suffer in dire poverty.**
I learned how the earth beneath Oklahoma was ravaged in the early 2000s by the process of fracking, how that oil extraction process tainted land and water wells, how earth tremors from wastewater disposal became standard on those open, fertile plains.
I learned how politicians, academics, engineers, stockholders, entrepreneurs, and the media all colluded in denial, obfuscation, manipulation, withholding evidence, making threats, and all manner of unethical and illegal behavior to promote the oil extraction and production business—into the far distant future.
I learned how little preparation the oil companies have for handling any ecological crises they cause—like the1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Deepwater Horizon debacle.
Rachel’s book sobered and embarrassed me to myself. It ranges over every continent, covers many corporate and governmental abuses, and shocks and stuns those of us adults who’ve shirked our responsibility to watch carefully in behalf of coming generations.
I’ve been naive, asleep, and gullible. Excruciatingly uninformed. I really trusted the idea that somewhere, bright, ethical, caring, honorable, responsible engineers, bankers, academics—church-going, Christian, property-owning, promise-keeping Oklahomans, Texans, Kansans —who loved their country and surely wouldn’t do something to hurt the whole globe—that they were doing things that were, at the very least, dangerous, unethical, unfair, short-sighted, and despicable.
Where was my head? I should have known better. I’ve read enough history and political philosophy; I’ve witnessed enough the disparity of poverty and wealth in this country.
But somehow I chose to be oblivious. Someone was working on solutions, I assumed; change and rescue were right around the corner. NOT!
I’m ashamed of my obtuseness.
But no more. I’m WOKE—a term I’m borrowing from the Black social justice and awareness movement.
And as 2019 turned over into 2020, I decided to make a pivot in my life. I decided to spend the next six to nine months educating myself to be a climate emergency activist. Yes, it’s probably at least a four-year job to become reasonably educated…but there’s not time for that. I must begin to act now.
So in my next post, I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing toward that intention to educate myself on climate issues (though COVID-19, interestingly, may be doing more for the climate and the atmosphere than any of us could possibly have predicted at the turn of the decade).
** I just read that in Jan 2020, ExxonMobil was trying to divest its Equatorial Guinea assets to focus on more profitable places. I wonder where those might be.