This girl, with her sweet little voice, says she doesn’t want adults to hope for her future. She wants us to panic like the house is on fire and then do something about it.
And she’s right. The house is on fire.
If you were anywhere near Northern California last fall, you know that.
My husband and I moved our family out of Reno to northwestern Pennsylvania in November and it literally felt like we were pulling our children out of that fire.
If you believe that Climate Change is a thing that’s actually happening, then Nevada is a ridiculous place to live. There’s almost no water and everything has to be shipped in. Most of the state is too hot to live in without artificial cooling most of the year. There’s no real agriculture.
And it is increasingly difficult to believe that there is even mild hope that we’ll be able to do anything more than hold on, where ever we are, and try to get through whatever is coming. Professor Jem Bendell calls that holding on Deep Adaptation. And it’s terrifying to the point of being miserable to even think about.
It’s interesting to note that the one post I’ve written about Deep Adaptation is one of my least read posts on Medium.
Deep Adaptation: Is It The End of the World as We Know It?
The shit may have already hit the fan.
The house is on fire.
So, last August when our rent went up 20 percent and two days later my husband was laid off of his job at the same time that the entire region caught on fire — we packed up and left.
But, we’re still in the larger house, right? Still on Earth, in the most first world of all first world nations. Still living a modern life.
The house might be on fire metaphorically, but our actual house isn’t actually on fire yet.
So…stay with me here…we have to keep living in the house right now and still panic because it’s on fire, even though it’s not on fire yet.
And that’s a lot for an old person’s brain to take in.
Which is maybe why we need a Joan-of-Arc-like girl with pigtails to say it plainly: Listen boneheads, the house is on fire. Do something.
There will be a time when Climate Change will cause wars and starvation and all kinds of horrors that are hard for my privileged American mind to wrap itself around.
It’s so easy to not see when you’re in the ballroom and the ballroom isn’t on fire yet.
Greta sees it and she wants me to panic. And I am panicked.
I’m panicked enough to know that living in the desert is not a great idea. From a distance of 2500 miles, the annual wild fires that ravage I’ve lived all my life are even more heart stopping than they were from up close.
I’m panicked enough to want my oldest daughter to move to Pennsylvania when she’s done with school in Oregon next year, because I’m afraid cross-country travel will become impossible — and it’s already less than ethical.
I’m panicked enough to believe that the travel that I have planned for the next year has a melancholy feeling to it. Maybe this is the last time we’ll be able to travel strictly for pleasure.
I’m panicked enough to realize how ridiculously inadequate all of this is. How inadequate I am. My kid is kept up at night by the fear of plastics in the ocean killing her before she’s forty and I bought her metal drinking straws and I am aware on a base level of how much that means that I suck as a human being.
I have to do better than arming my fourteen-year-old with a metal drinking straw.
I’m panicked, but it’s weird. Things have to change, but they haven’t yet. There’s a feeling like a collective held breath. We’re on a planet-sized ship and it turns slow.
I’m panicked like a deer in the headlights, I guess. Frozen. Waiting. Convinced that something will happen, but not sure what it is. Something has to happen.
When I was a kid in the 1970s, the hole in the ozone layer was a big deal. People were just starting to pay attention to the environment at all. Small changes were the thing.
My mom stopped using aerosol hairspray. We turned off the water when we brushed our teeth. (I remember a TV commercial that showed a boy brushing his teeth, directly draining a pond when he turned on his tap and threatening to kill a giant fish.) We had paper drives at school.
The problem has gotten so big now that those things seem — quaint. Or worse, sometimes they feel like they have a kind of Instagram-fake shine to them. Wearing beads made of plastic collected from ocean just seems too cute to be useful, you know?
The fucking house is on fire. That’s big and whatever response individuals can have right now, it seems like it needs to be big. Even if it does feel like it can’t possibly be enough to make a difference if the massive companies and governments causing the bulk of the problem don’t change, too.
This is happening.
Panic is actually probably not the best possible response. Because panic causes unreasonable, unreliable behavior. Or no response at all — the deer in the headlights thing.
One thing I’ve learned, caring for my husband’s parents through Alzheimer’s Disease, is that transition is weird and scary. And hard. It’s the same, but also very different. And you can feel how much more different it’s going to be right on the horizon, but that different hasn’t come yet.
The developed world is transitioning right now. Most people are still working their regular jobs, living in their homes like they always have, driving their cars, buying food at the supermarket. Unless they’ve been displaced by fire or a storm or some other squeeze that gets tighter and tighter every year.
As I write this, I can hear a small town American high school football game happening on the field at the end of my street. Families cheering. My daughter’s friends are playing in the marching band.
The house is on fire. We still have to live in it.
My Facebook feed is full today of parents proud of their children who got in trouble at school for skipping in solidarity with Greta Thunberg and her message. To raise their voices for climate justice.
Amazon workers walked out of work today, to force Jeff Bezo’s hand with regard to the company’s environmental impact.
Okay, I thought when I read that. Deep breath.
I’m an author. I’m a reader. I’m a Prime addict. Amazon is a central part of my life. Will I stop using it if Bezos doesn’t concede? Will it even make the tiniest different if I do?
Amazon is one of those things that might not matter much in a few years if we can’t get our environmental act together, anyway, right?
Is that my excuse for not changing a damn thing if Bezos doesn’t concede?
I’m panicked, Greta. And I’m doing the best I can. I’m paying attention. I’m writing. I’m voting. I’m trying.
And I am painfully aware that it’s not nearly enough.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation, Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.