In the 1960’s European automakers introduced the VW beetle to Americans. Automakers were introducing economy cars Iike the Ford Falcon and Chevy Corvair to compete with gas guzzlers like my father’s Oldsmobile. The general opinion at the time was if a vehicle used less gas, it would not only cost less to drive but emit less CO2.
Smog was a problem visible from my parent’s home above San Francisco Bay. When the air was still, a gray pall hung heavily over the Bay Area. Because smog was a concern in cities, scientists were investigating the contribution of CO2 and human activity upon air quality and climate change. Most of the chatter at the time wasn’t about climate change and extinctions but about smog, air quality, and dependence upon foreign oil.
That my boyfriend drove a cute yellow VW bug hardly qualified me as an activist. Greenpeace was seven years away. Conversations about conservation were mild compared to today’s discussions—rising seas, reducing bird populations, gasping lungs, raging mega fires, critical food production, and corporate irresponsibility. Nevertheless, I had adopted a progressive attitude toward conservation, even though I was uninformed about climate science.
During a break between semesters, I naively brought up with my father the issue of industrial pollution and our country’s dependency upon gas and oil. “What are we going to do about this?” Which truthfully meant what was he going to do?
My father seemed like an important man, connected to influential people. Surely he could do something. My flattering but futile challenge must have amused him.
He lowered his newspaper just enough to peer at me above the headlines. “I’ll leave that problem for your generation to solve,” he answered.
Decades later I was perched on a stool in a daughter’s kitchen when she launched into a worry session about climate change. “What are we going to do?” Suddenly my father’s response was resonantly present, like the Spirit of Missed Opportunity.
Indeed what are we going to do? The planet is indeed heating up, the problem recklessly compounding, the problem outrunning us.
Listening to this daughter’s rant, I suggested we do something manageable.
She looked at me expectantly.
“Text your handyman to remind him we need the hinges he forgot to leave last week.” A total reversal of topic, but it would produce a practical result.
Chuckling, she sent the text, although she didn’t give up easily. My dodge had had only a temporary effect. She pressed on until I, like my father, said, “Let’s hope the grandchildren will be able to enact solutions.”
The infamous rhetorical dodge.
We fill four closets with clothes, most of them non-essential, many of them made from Textiles contributing to chemical pollution.
When purchasing our vehicles, we prefer power to economy.
We use gas powered yard equipment.
We use plastic.
We depend on the grid. We like our electronics, our internet connection, our iPhones, our fancy appliances.
The only things we have done to offset climate change are plant trees, carry our own reusable water bottles and bags, compost kitchen and yard trash, use LED lighting, and turn off our lights.
What and who are we waiting for? Corporations? Government? Neighbors? Friends? Grandchildren?
I’m stuck at the opinion stage and “What can we do?”
Anything. Something. Plant more trees. Turn off the lights. Consume less. Install solar. Buy a hybrid or electronic vehicle.
And nag the grandkids: “You gotta do something! Don’t copy us.” We knew we had inherited the earth and all its blessings, but have done virtually nothing, except consume.