Listen to the Kids

“Why am I studying for a future I won’t have?”

Go ahead. Answer that question. I dare you.

A very young woman scrawled that question on a piece of cardboard and carried it from the high school down to the plaza one Friday morning a couple of weeks ago. She was one of 300 or so in in Ashland and one of many thousands worldwide who were challenging you and me, the so-called grownups. “Our world is coming apart. If we don’t change direction, it will not sustain us. What are you doing about it?”

The reason I dare you to think about this question is it will lead you into painful emotional territory. You may want to cry. I do, because the answer is that we are doing nothing, or at least nothing close to acting on the scale required to give these kids a chance. The fact is that the beautiful children who marched to Ashland’s community forum on March 15 face a future of unimaginable horror. On some level, they know it.

Go ahead. Get mad at me for saying this. It’s not easy to process. But reality will not change because we ignore it. Nor will anger, denial or grief bend the curve of environmental collapse.

So what makes sense? My thoughts on this are probably not better than yours. None of us and no generation of humans before us have ever faced a universal threat to the existence of our species. There are no doctors in the house. But let’s share some ideas. Here are mine:

First, be clear that the problem is simple. Yes, we are talking about a vast system, a planetary ecosphere that is complex beyond our understanding. Vast, complex systems can absorb a lot of damage but they can be changed by vast inputs. Currently human activity is generating and releasing enough greenhouse gases to make our planet uninhabitable, sooner rather than later.

Second, sympathize with your fellow humans but be firm. They are frightened and most of them don’t know why. Many cleave to false leaders and simple answers. The more deranged among them slaughter innocents. So love them all, but tell the truth. The only way to stabilize our climate is to stop putting carbon and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. That implies a huge investment, but it is not negotiable.

Third, only collective action will make a difference. This means that all of our institutions – governments, corporations, churches, and communities of all sorts – must move in the same direction. We must elevate leaders who understand this. All the rest — the deniers, delayers and distractors – must step aside.

So there’s a plan for saving the earth. The problem is big and so is the solution. Where to start? I suggest listening to the kids. Follow them. Most likely you have a few levers. Money? Time? A voice? Use what you have. Do something.