It is the beginning of the New Year, 2014. I watch you as you board your school bus on this cold January morning. I am filled with precious memories of our family time in the last weeks of December.
Like a lot of other families, we gave gifts to each other. I had this dream that I would find the perfect gift for you both. In the dream, as you open it, out bursts a light cloud that fills your lungs as you look inside. You breathe in this gift — and it miraculously offers you the promise of a long and healthful future. It is the gift of a healthy, life-giving planet.
I have another dream, too. It is a scary dream about you opening another box at New Year’s time. It is a gift that makes us all cry when we open it. It contains the news of what has happened to the planet in 2013. In the dream, you peer into the box and see this message:
“Mother Earth has a serious fever! It is 2014 now, and you each have about 14 years before our carbon emissions drive global temperatures through the 2 degrees Celsius ‘cap.’ In about 14 years, that is 2028, rising global temperatures will catastrophically disrupt the stable band of temperature that has supported the last 400 generations of human life. Fourteen years is not very far away. Happy New Year?”
Charley, in 14 years you will be 29 years old. Maybe you’ll be graduated from college and at the beginning of a vocational journey — maybe you’ll want to be a musician, maybe a scientist!
Everley, in 14 years you will be 22 years old. Maybe you’ll be in college then. Maybe you’ll be preparing to be a dancer or an artist; maybe dreaming about a family.
But in my scary dream, I look into your faces as you open this box. Your smiles of hopeful and youthful anticipation of a joyous gift turn into a cold, solemn, wondering look. But you are not surprised. It is as if you already know about the box.
I remember all our times together in 2013 as climate change escalated even when so many of us pretended it was not that big a deal. It was in 2013 that we heard about summers so hot in Iowa, where I was born, that even the corn won’t grow. It was in 2013 that we got used to talking about “extreme weather,” because it happened all the time.
We saw flattened buildings and devastated forests that came from highest-ever-recorded winds in the Philippines typhoons; we saw pictures of the Arctic losing 75 percent of its summer sea ice; and we saw raging record-setting fires in the mountains of Colorado and California.
I think we’ll all remember that in 2013 the country in which we live became a “well-oiled” global warming machine. Now, as I watch you both get on your school bus I feel deep worry about your future.
Environmentalist Bill McKibbon just wrote an article that says that in 2014: “At the moment when physics tell us we should be jamming on the carbon brakes, America is revving the engine.” Our beloved USA is passing Saudi Arabia as the planet’s biggest oil producer and Russia as the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas combined.
Even as we’ve begun to burn less coal here at home, our coal exports have climbed to record highs. And that means our world temperatures are rising, too.
Today, I watch you board the school bus in the new year of 2014. In my mind, I fast forward 14 short years. All our talk about the climate emergency hurts my ears because it is not that far out there in the distant future.
So Charley and Everley, no matter what happens in the next 14 years, remember one thing: We are all going to need each other here in Hood River, across the Columbia River and all over the world.
Mother Earth has a serious fever! We are all going to need to be earth healers! We are all going to need to stop the exporting of coal and oil along the Columbia. We are all going to need to de-couple ourselves from the fossil fuel industry agenda by divesting our money from those destructive and morally wrong financial interests. We are all going to need to stop our excessive use of fossil fuel energy and start becoming aggressive users of alternative energy. We are all going to need to expand our educational and survival skills.
As you begin 2014, I’ll make you a promise: I promise to be active in the climate movement. I promise to never be indifferent to you and your generation. I promise to join with you in re-creating a healthy planet. I promise to defend what is sacred of Mother Earth and protect you, as best I can, from what can destroy it.
Fourteen years is not much time. I promise you that I will devote my last 14 years to the well-being of your next 14 years.
I will be a dedicated earth recovery healer!
Rev. John Boonstra is a clergyperson in the United Church of Christ. He has worked as an interfaith social justice organizer, a local pastor, spiritual advisor and educator. He now works full-time in the climate movement working with a number of regional groups on issues of fossil fuel divestment, networking against coal and oil exports and speaking on issues related to environmental justice.