Today I saw a bit of Greta Thunberg’s speech to the United Nations about the climate crisis. Faced with her passion and her absolutely understandable panic over climate change, I had a moment where I felt like I should give up on writing, and somehow become a full-time climate activist.
Miss Thunberg basically said, and I’m paraphrasing here, I should be in school, across the ocean. Not here, telling you grownups to do what you should have done a long time ago. She’s absolutely right. And as one of those grown ups, I feel terribly guilty that we’ve let things get so bad. Perhaps I feel extra guilty because, as an environmental studies major in college, I’ve known a lot about climate change for three decades now.
The truth is, as a girl, I wanted to be the world’s Greta Thunberg. I had her passion for the earth and I wanted to make others care the way I did. I stayed awake nights worried about pollution and animals going extinct. During college I interned with the Sierra Club and knocked on doors, canvassing for CalPIRG. Realizing that the realities of working for those organizations were not for me, I switched gears and taught environmental education to children for my first few years out of college.
But then life showed up. I was so broke on my environmental educator’s salary, which at its very highest point was maybe $20,000 a year, that I knew I had to do something else with my life. So I went into regular education, hoping I could still make a difference, and teach kids to understand and care about the earth. And thus began my career in public schools.
Hearing Greta Thunberg speak now, I wonder two things. First, is she really meant to be in school? For whatever reason, this incredibly passionate young woman has sparked the enthusiasm of people all over our planet. So perhaps this truly is her calling, although, of course, I understand the meaning behind her words. She should not have to push to solve this crisis. It should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. Now that our earth is warming at an alarming rate, it’s the job of our world leaders to fix it. Yet most of them are displaying a terrifying level of weakness on this issue.
And secondly, Greta reminds me that we all have our own roles to play in this crisis.
I say roles, because no matter our profession, we can all make a difference in slowing climate change. My husband and I have used our savings to add solar panels to our house. We are currently saving for an electric car to replace the hybrid my husband drives on his commute. Our range seems to be dying, and when it does we’ll replace it with an electric one, although we’d prefer to cook with gas. We use reusable bags for shopping, and even small cotton bags for our produce at the grocery store, to avoid single-use plastic. These are just a few small examples of individual changes. If enough of us make them, however, we can make a difference.
We do have influence on a larger level too. We can work with our communities to implement local policies that are more environmentally friendly. We can write letters to our representatives and sign petitions and join rallies. Most importantly we can vote with a candidate’s environmental policies first and foremost in our minds. The question What are you going to do about climate change? could be one of the first things we ask any candidate running for any office from here on out.
Even at work, we can make a difference. My husband has pushed the corporation he works for to adopt more environmentally friendly policies. I’ve included environmental issues in many of my stories.
Still… writing stories? Watching Miss Thunberg’s speech today, I felt like maybe our situation is too dire for romance novels. But at the same time, I think romance novels, and entertainment in general, have their own role in these troubled times. At the end of a day, after we’ve been inundated with so much global bad news, it’s important to rest and relax and remind ourselves that happiness can still be found in the small things. Otherwise we might just grow numb and exhausted, and then where will we be?
So perhaps, while Greta Thunberg’s role in this crisis is to rally the troops and make change happen on a global scale, my role is to inform and comfort on a micro level. We all give what we can, and what I have to give at this point is my imagination. I can share my heartfelt belief in love and family, in the hard decisions that let us grow, and the small sweet moments that help us heal. Maybe my job is to help remind us that if we make the right choices, if we keep the faith, if we do what we can, we can still have a happily ever after.