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And now we wait
The future may not be as doomed as we think.
I can’t remember what exactly I was doing when it happened—I was getting ready to leave the house or making the bed, I think—but I’ve since committed the sweet moment to memory: My toddler was sitting on our bedroom floor, pretending to plant a seed.
“First, dig a hole,” she said in her tiny sing-song voice, as she burrowed her fingers into the carpet.
“Then, drop the seed.” Carefully, she recited the steps to herself. I’m not even sure she knew I was watching her; she was lost in her own little world.
Once the imaginary seed was planted, she pretended to gently push dirt on top and water the section of land. “Done!” she shouted triumphantly, jumping up with a smile.
“And now we wait,” I chimed in. I gave her a quick hug, not wanting to make too much of the moment, but secretly thrilled to get a glimpse of something she’d learned from her teachers.
Since last October, when she turned two, my daughter has attended a half-day preschool. It’s a special place, for several reasons: It’s within walking distance of our house, we got in without being on a waitlist (a miracle in today’s childcare-strapped world), the teachers instruct the students in English and Spanish, and it's entirely outdoors.
It's that last point that seems to pique most people’s interest. Classes are held outdoors, all the time.
Yes, even on rainy days; students and teachers are all equipped with solid rain gear, and the toddlers relish the opportunity for puddle-jumping. Yes, even on cold days; truly frigid temperatures are rare here in Georgia, but everyone also has snow suits, hats, gloves, and all the other cold-weather gear they would need. And yes, even on blistering hot days. The only times classes go inside are during severe weather events or if some of the children need a respite from the climate, whatever it may be.
The preschool follows our public school schedule, which means that classes end in late May, pause for a summer break, and resume in mid-August. My daughter just wrapped up her first week back. She loved meeting her new teachers, reuniting with friends, and generally getting messy—whether from playing in the mud or with art supplies. She did not, however, love the heat.
Over the past week, Georgia—like many parts of the U.S. this summer—has been stuck under a heat dome, with high temperatures near 100 degrees Fahrenheit, plus a dangerous heat index. It’s the kind of weather that makes you feel lethargic, can cause headaches and dizziness, and in some cases can be lethal.
The outdoor preschool, which only operates during the cooler morning hours, is taking precautions: keeping the children in the shade and well hydrated, communicating frequently with parents, and escaping indoors when needed. Considering that we spend the majority of our summer days in the comfort of air-conditioning, I’m happy my daughter gets some precious outside time. Still, I’m anxious for this heatwave to pass.
And now we wait. Will it get any hotter this summer? When will cooler weather come? How bad will the years ahead get? The questions are endless. The answers, it seems, are few and far between.
Last week, I invited paying subscribers of this newsletter to share their thoughts about the climate crisis. It’s something I suspect we all think and worry about often but, at least anecdotally, we don’t talk about that frequently in our daily lives. It’s too big, too scary. What is there to say, really? This feels awful and I don’t know what to do about it.
The general theme among the comments was that, yes, we are all worried sick about climate change and, no, we don’t have much in the way of hope. A couple folks noted how easy it is to catastrophize the situation. I appreciated what everyone shared, but there was one comment that especially stuck with me. Fiza (who has her own wonderful newsletter), wrote that, “on top of the general fear and hopelessness and eco-anxiety most of us probably feel, I'm just continuously feeling like I just figured out this whole belonging to a place thing.”
The place, she clarified, isn’t the city, state or country she lives in, “but, like, Earth and, like, wanting to be alive on it.” For Fiza, a South Asian Muslim immigrant living with clinical depression in the American South, this is a big deal.
I don’t know exactly what Fiza is feeling, but I can empathize. Lately, I feel like I’ve settled into a more content version of myself, especially after experiencing some major lows over the past several years. I love being a mom. I love my family. I (mostly) love working as a freelancer. I love the life I’ve built—and hate that none of it will last forever.
Impermanence is a topic I keep coming back to in this newsletter. It’s the harsh truth I’m constantly brushing up against in life. It’s the reason that—as the Barbie movie expressed so beautifully—being a human is so uncomfortable.
When we know that things won’t last, we appreciate them more. At least, if we don’t let fear and despair get in our way.
Just a few months shy of three, my daughter luckily hasn’t yet had to wrap her head around the concept that things won’t last forever. To her, the world is a safe and loving space to explore. As it should be.
But for me, watching my sponge of a toddler grow and learn new things by the day, it’s hard not to be gripped by fear. Not only is this little person I love changing rapidly, but so is the world she lives in. I read stories about how hot and inhospitable the earth will become if rising temperatures stay on their current trajectory. I see the years cited—2030, 2040, 2050—and can’t help but calculate how old she will be.
Sometimes I have trouble envisioning her future. Sometimes I don’t want to.
Climate activists Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua might say that I’m suffering from a “crisis of imagination”—something that holds climate progress back. They say that imagining a radically different world is crucial to charting a better, more sustainable path forward. Solnit and Young Lutunatabua are the editors of the essay and interview collection Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility and a powerful project by the same name. Their goal is to offer some hope and direction to “anyone who is despondent, anxious, or unsure about climate change and seeking answers.” In other words, I’m their target audience.
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Like many of you, I have plenty of questions about the climate crisis. And while it’s easy to assume there are no answers, Solnit and Young Lutunatabua are quick to point out that’s not the case. “It’s late in the game, but the game’s not over,” they share in their incredibly helpful—and hopeful—FAQ. “Climate activists are working on making the transition away from fossil fuels and toward climate justice a reality. They have a lot of victories behind them and need to win a lot in front of them.”
As climate scientist Michael Mann said, “The solution is already here. We just need to deploy it rapidly and at a massive scale. It all comes down to political will and economic incentives.”
In an Outrage + Optimism podcast interview, Solnit noted that Americans in particular tend to be impatient. “If we demand this today and we don't get it tomorrow, then we lost,” she said, summing up our short-sighted views. “It ignores the complexity of change and that sometimes it takes a while.”
There are a lot of questions and things to worry about, but we also have answers and solutions. And taking action is a great way to counteract feelings of climate grief and overwhelm.
One thing I can easily envision is a future in which my daughter asks what her parents did to help the environment. I have a few answers: We’ve planted a pollinator garden, we compost, we opt for road trips instead of flying. We donate to organizations working toward climate solutions. We listen to and amplify the work of the climate scientists and activists mapping a path toward a better, more equitable future.
These are small steps and they may not add up to much. But they’re something. They are better than despair.
Another Sweet Dumb Brain commenter (and another wonderful Substacker), Rae, said she takes heart “in the massive efforts underway on so many fronts.” She pointed to the progress in Congress, the courts, and international dialogue—in no small part due to the efforts of youth activists.
“I know we’ve already come so far that no solution is guaranteed,” added Rae, who, like me, is a parent to a toddler. “Still, I can’t help but see the glimmers of hope, or maybe I have to see them for the sake of my son.”
We do our part. We push those in power to do more. We continue to create safe, loving spaces for the next generation to explore. And now we wait.