I’m not a very open person. Call it shyness, call it trust issues, but whatever it is, I don’t share my deep inner feelings or life’s story very often. As much as I enjoy talking (especially about myself, just look at my day job back at USC), I prefer to limit the topic of conversation to my opinions or to the amusing antics of my past or to my daring plans for the future — never about the stuff that’s inside, the stuff that really matters, the stuff that makes me tick. However, in this world where fact is fiction and fiction can be passed as fact, where feelings can win an election, and especially in light of our president’s latest Executive Order, it’s time I add my voice to the din. It’s time I explain why I’m ready to dedicate my entire life to trying to save the planet…it’s time I explain why this all matters to me.
Before I launch into it, it’s important for me to note that as far as stories about dedication to environmental causes go, mine is one that is dripping with privilege. My safe, sheltered, white, upper-class upbringing has afforded me the kind of life history that allows me to sit here at a computer half a world away and write my sob story.
That said, it’s a story I feel I need to tell because most of the people who have never known my privilege, but who have known (and will know) the devastation of climate catastrophe far worse than I, are not the ones who need convincing…it’s you, my peers of privilege, my fellow human beings who see no harm in supporting the policies of a man more privileged, even, than we are.
Politics have gotten incredibly partisan recently and so, back home, the conservative friends I’ve known since high school or before are probably shaking their heads and saying, “Ailish went off to school in California to get brainwashed by those liberals,” but please, hear me out: I’m here because I need you to know I didn’t get brainwashed by anyone. I got educated. I got opinionated. I got loud.
And frankly, it was about damn time.
My desire to protect the planet can be traced back far beyond my move to a liberal university in a liberal city. It can be traced straight back to a childhood spent hunched over animal encyclopedias in the library, to a childhood spent watching Steve Irwin’s every move and dreaming of the day when I could be just like him (only with furrier, more appealing predators). It can be traced back to 9-year-old me shaking my fist at the destruction I read about in books and saw on TV and thinking, Just wait ‘till I grow up. I’ll save the animals…I’ll save all of them.
As far as my more recent foray into environmentalism? I suppose, yeah, that all started at USC. Actually, I can remember the exact day it started. It was freshman year, and the professor of my writing (read: not even environmental science) class came in looking unusually hopeless and quite honestly, a little frightened. He said he was watching one of his favorite TV shows and there was an episode that had a segment about the environment. He relayed its message to us: stop worrying about all of your useless problems, because thanks to this generation and the generations before, we’re all doomed to destruction from catastrophic climate change by the end of the century anyways.
After class, the weather was a perfect cliche. The clouds hung low overhead, dumping rain onto my usually perfect, sunny world as I called my mom crying, frantic and desperate for consolation. I rode my longboard slowly back and forth across McCarthy Quad, talking in circles with my mother as she tried to offer solutions and I shot them down, one after the other, because there were no solutions. Try as she might (and she did — really, the woman deserves a sainthood), there was nothing she could say to make me feel better.
I guess there’s not much you can say to a person whose childhood dreams and life’s purpose has been crushed by hard scientific evidence.
If I sound bitter and disappointed, it’s because I am. I’m disappointed that we, as compassionate, sensible human beings, let it get this far. I’m disappointed that even within my own lifetime I’ve seen corporations and politicians alike take advantage of our desire to trust our fellow Americans and believe they have our best interests in mind.
I’ll admit it, I’m disappointed for selfish reasons, too. I’m disappointed because choices I always thought of as being my own may have been stripped from me long before they ever even entered my mind.
Take the old American Dream of getting rich, settling down, and having kids and a house with a white picket fence. Now, having kids has never been my number one dream in life (saving animals has, and we can see how good that dream is looking), but, nonetheless, I’ve thought of it. Now, though, staring climate catastrophe in the face, I know that in 10-15 years, I may very well have to look at the state of the planet, of the environment, of policy I can’t control, and accept the fact that the generations before me stole away any hope of a normal life for my kids, and if not for them, then certainly for my kids’ kids — that I cannot be so selfish as to bring children into a world in which toxins will pollute their fragile little lungs, where floods, hurricanes, and drought will cripple their ability to eat, to sleep, and possibly even to survive. Perhaps that’s all moot, though, because who would want to live in a world devoid of the ferocious beauty and grace of big cats? A world ignorant of the kaleidoscope of stars hidden beneath polluted night skies? A world without sheets of ice so big, and so ancient, they’re like mountains exploding from the sea?
In environmental science, realism and cynicism are often separated by nothing more than self-administered doses of (perhaps misguided) hope. Yet even as I write this — locked in my apartment in Southeast Queensland thanks to a climate-change induced cyclone — I’m hopeful. It seems absurd to hope, staring square into the face four years of climate denial in my homeland and plans for one of the biggest coal mines in the history of the world in my current country of residence, but it’s all I have. It’s all that keeps me sane, all that gives me purpose. Part of me will always be that little girl in the library thinking “I’ll do it. I’ll save them.”
That is why I’m here. I’m here because the passion and determination of little 9-year-old me is still there, only I’ve grown up and realized that this fight was never just about saving animals. It’s about saving the millions of people who don’t have the luxury of casting a vote on whether this issue even exists. It’s about saving the people for whom a changing climate isn’t an unnerving thought but a terrifying reality. This is about all of us, and our children, and our children’s children. It’s about you…and me. It’s about saving this planet — this 4,500,000,000 year old planet — from the astoundingly minuscule yet unfathomably destructive blip in time that is the existence of human beings.
I’m here because even if my professor is right and all is lost, when future generations look back and say, “All of that destruction — all of that evidence — and still no real attempt fix it? What were you doing?” I want to be able to say that I did everything I knew how to do — that I spent every bit of my time, every last scrap of my talent and my energy trying to save this planet so that others can fall in love with it as I have.
When your children, or their children ask you what you did to protect their home…will you be able to say the same?