My wife’s got me reading about climate change lately.
Used to be, I’d read about climate change daily. Come nighttime, under the covers, as a ritual, I’d type “climate change” into Google News. I’d horror-read for an hour, then slip into dreams (be they light or dark).
What could I do about it, given my skills? In my 20s, I wrote apocalyptic fiction. In my 30s, I made a film about veganism (for the uninitiated, some 15% of our human-made greenhouse gas emissions come from making meat). I touched some people’s hearts. I suppose I added to “the conversation” (quotes used since, from the looks of social media, the conversation tends to consist of mainly shouting). But in the end, I felt like we were getting nowhere. By we, I don’t mean me and her; I mean humanity.
But, I took the wins where I could get them. As recently as the 2012 election, Obama got mocked for even mentioning climate change. Al Gore of course had dubbed it an “inconvenient truth.” But inconvenient or not, at least it grew relevant. It’s the centerpiece of President Biden’s agenda. It’s on everybody’s minds and (at long last) on many people’s tongues.
So I figured I’d let the whole thing play out. Far be it from me to maintain any quaint illusions of control. I’d vote, I’d write, I’d be ecologically responsible. Along the way, last year, I picked up the acclaimed “Apocalypse Never,” which is written by a climate expert who seeks to curb climate alarmism.
Alarmist or not, I still have yet to crack it open.
But like I said, my wife’s begun bringing me back. She does the content for Ally, an energy company based in Houston. Day in and day out, she tells me what she’s read: droughts, fires, famine, death, a mother in Madagascar hunting insects for her family’s lunch.
I say to her, “I used to be obsessed with this topic. I can’t believe you’re so deep in it. I don’t know where I went…”
She says to me, “It’s the only thing that matters.”
Says, “I constantly look it up on Google News.”
Says, “If I was a person just starting off in the world, I don’t know what kind of future I would plan…”
She’s reading, so now I’m reading. I’ve come back. We’re cute that way. I influence her; she influences me. I’ll bring her a topic, she’ll double-down on it, bring it back to me tenfold.
Only this isn’t cute. This is terrifying. Up north, near the Oregon border, the fires have started blazing. I’d use the words “fire season,” only the season is starting to seem about 12 months long. Soon our own trees will burn. Then, maybe our houses? Who knows? It’s a roll of the dice.
My friends without kids, they’ll cite climate change as the driver behind their choice. I don’t get into it with them. I see having kids as a sacred and primal thing. My first impulse to do so surfaced about 12 years ago, when I held my nephew Joey, a baby at the time, in my arms. This is nice, I thought. I could go in this direction…
Two beautiful monsters later, that’s what we’ve done.
But was it a rash choice? Too much heart, not enough brain?
I don’t think so. ‘Cause as it turns out, I have a retort for those child-free friends of mine, even though my preference is to avoid the conversation. But since we’re all here, and since my retort happens to relate to climate change, and since I’m back at it, as part of the broader “conversation,” here’s what I think…
Life’s not designed to be easy. It never has been. Life’s a school of some kind, a psychotropic pressure-cooker made of meat and bone, earth and fire. “No one here gets out alive,” as Jim Morrison said. You go to school, you get schooled.
Ancient times. Twelfth century. Twenty-first century. Doesn’t matter. That’s the way it’s always been, the way it always will be. Whether you’re being chased by a 10-foot-tall lizard across the pre-biblical desert or you’re being sucked under by a tidal wave in 2050, you’re going through it because you came to school. You’re a spirit made flesh. You can continue just being a spirit later. In this place?
You came for the flesh.
I’m scarred. You’re scarred. We all bear scars. That’s the life experience — the way it’s built — it’s in the source code — it’s a feature, not a bug.
And it occurred to me, working on this piece, that I didn’t take mental leave of climate change because my artistic works about it failed to connect. Nah, as it happens, I took mental leave of climate change when I became a father. Not because I’m some willfully happy idiot, like Michael Gross’s character in “Family Ties” (although, yeah, that’s kind of happened, also), but because as a father, I became a deeper architect of the life experience. I took a closer measure of what it is, how it is made.
You don’t have children expecting them to live perfect lives. To be certain, you wish and hope and pray for joy and safety on their paths, and you take upon yourself the sacred duty of keeping them as safe, happy, healthy, fed, and secure as you can make them, but you know all the while that pain will greet them, innocence will leave them, events will humble them, and life will most certainly school them.
Climate change is charring up the Earth. It’s here. It’s terrifying. Shattering our egos’ illusions. Granting us the wisdom that only comes from being leveled and brought low.
Oh, children: I wish for you a pleasurable passage through this place. But to know the pleasures, you have to take the pains. I’ll do my best to keep your pain to a minimum, the way my parents did for me, and the way your mother’s parents did for her. If you hurt, I hurt. But there’s a great storm coming. We have to hold on tight, now, you understand? And the storm might make your father small, show you moments in which he is unsure. But I’ll hang on. We’ll hang on.
We came for the life experience.
Relax. It’s all part of the plan.