Grandma takes a punch to the stomach

By From page A13 | February 03, 2013

I recently read an interview that I might have put aside as “extreme” except that it got me in the grandmother gut.

The person interviewed in the December 2012 Sun magazine was Kathleen Dean Moore, a philosophy professor, writer and activist in global environmentalism. Keenly aware of climate change, she thinks the good times of our planet are over.

“We have brought the world to the brink of ruin,” she says, “by acting under the delusion that humans are separate from the earth, better somehow, in control of it.” She believes that as we destroy our habitat, we destroy ourselves.

This dismal thought was hardly the only one that tempted me to put the article aside, but I kept reading.

In addition to her professional efforts, Moore personally deals with our failing ecosystem by trying to live lightly on the earth. She gave away her hybrid car, eats local food and spends her summers in a cabin in Alaska where power comes from a creek.

She does permit herself flights to speaking engagements and if she needs running shoes, she buys them. Her honesty about her own concessions to comfort kept me reading, which is how I got to the grandma stuff.

Moore believes it’s up to grandmothers and grandfathers to save the world. The young, although they care intensely about the future, are starting careers and raising families and don’t have time for political action. Healthy older folks should lead the charge.

The lines that hit me hardest were these: “If your granddaughter has asthma because there is dust in the air, get out in the street and demand clean air. If your grandson is not learning well because there are toxins in the water, you should be at the city-council meeting. Their parents are busy making a home for these children but you have the time and the ability to make a difference. To love someone is to have a sacred obligation to protect them.”

This made me feel guilty, but I wanted to ask, “What if I want to help in the home, too?”

I fly to Chicago to give breaks to my daughter and son-in-law by cooking meals, doing pick ups and drop offs, and driving on errands. I try to be a loving presence for my grandsons. My frequent visits, I say to myself, are incompatible with becoming an activist.

That’s not true, of course. I, too, could give up a car. I could eliminate foreign travel. Politically, I could lead the charge—on something.

Problem is, that’s not my style. I suppose I have the intellectual wherewithal to lead a movement, but I’ve never been that kind of person. I’ve organized events, but they were things like a neighborhood camping trip, a Girl Scout excursion, or a multi-family overnight in the bark houses at Indian Grinding Rock State Park.

I feel no drive to organize an environmental event, let alone a protest, let alone a movement. I add my name, my presence or my money to other people’s movements and ideas but I’m not a principal player.

How do I square that with the fact that I am worried about the future of our country and our world?

My grandsons could be alive at the turn of the century, 2100. Will they inhabit a country grown too crowded due to coastal erosion? Will they have enough to eat? Will someone care for them?

Right now they’re towheaded toddlers, which makes it hard to picture them as 90-year-olds in wheelchairs, but their adulthood is not so far away. What will that be like if the ozone layer continues to dissolve?

Is it ok to keep doing what comes naturally to me, writing for a small town paper, volunteering at Yolo Hospice, kayaking, visiting the grandkids?

Am I simply a sophisticated excuse maker, a typical selfish American stuck in “take” mode?

Or — ray of hope — might the crisis be less dire than predicted? (See a September 2012 article in Wired Magazine titled, “Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times.”)

Moore, however, puts her view strongly: “I think we have to find the time to be politically active. I don’t want to cut anybody any slack on that.”

She also feels she knows who’s to blame for our plight: corporations, especially transnational petrochemical companies. I think it’s more complicated than that: everyone who seeks a better life by having more money for themselves, their children or their retirement is hurting the environment in some way.

Almost everything we do uses energy.

The problem with saving the world right now is that it requires us to go against our self-interest. Like many people, I would help more if there were some way to do it without renouncing the pleasures in my life, especially those trips to Chicago.

I hope that soon an attractive middle ground will become available, some way for this grandma to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

But I suspect that a middle ground won’t emerge until activists like Moore have doggedly dragged us out of our comfort zone, pulling so hard in one direction that we can’t help but land in the middle. I’m resisting that drag, clearly. I’m waiting for someone or something to show me the way.

Grandma isn’t deaf yet, or heartless, just unsure how to proceed.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at [email protected]

Marion Franck

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