I can’t claim to understand love. Is it an intimate emotional connection that binds us together? A chemical reaction surging through our cerebral cortex? A genetic adaptation that helps ensure the propagation of our species? The sublime gift of some greater power? I honestly don’t know. I can’t even tell you if those explanations are mutually exclusive or whether two, or perhaps more, might be true at the same time.
Love is a mystery. All I know is that it’s real.
Love, of course, takes many different forms. Perhaps the fiercest is the love of a parent for his or her child. Most of us would do anything to protect our children. We’d offer up our lives for them. Our children are both the distillation of our personal dreams and the light that illuminates our future. We would — and do — sacrifice for them without hesitation, regret or conscious thought; not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because the love coursing through our veins demands it.
Yet at the same time, our kids are just kids. We should never put them in a position where they’re forced to shoulder overwhelming burdens before they’re ready to do so. They lack the skills that come with age and experience. Asking them to step up because we’re too lazy or inept to deal with the issues of the day is unforgivable.
Which brings us to climate change. As the NY Times reported back on March 24th, 16 young Montanans are suing the State of Montana for prioritizing fossil fuels over human health and well-being. The kids have a point. The State of Montana has long ignored the existential threat posed by our changing climate, and it has done so in spite of Montana’s constitution, which guarantees “a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”
My son Kian, who grew up hiking in Montana’s mountains and fly fishing its rivers, is one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs. And while I see the necessity for the lawsuit, and I love and admire Kian all the more because he’s accepted responsibility for a situation he neither created nor condoned, I have to admit that I’m saddened beyond words that we’re relying on his voice, and the voices of other Montana youth, to make up for our failures.
Make no mistake. Older generations, including my own, have failed. We’ve placed so much value on the comfort and convenience provided by internal combustion engines and fossil fuel- powered electricity that we’ve lost sight of our obligation to provide the "clean and healthful environment” our kids and grandkids deserve — and that Montana’s constitution guarantees.
I woke a couple of weeks ago to a thick envelope of smoke cascading down from Canadian wildfires and filling our valley. We live down the road from Glacier National Park and instead of the clear skies and fresh air of a traditional Montana spring, we were inundated with noxious wildfire smoke. And this happened at a time of year when cool temperatures and abundant moisture should make northern wildfires a distant concern rather than an in-your-face reality.
I can’t explain why, with the signs of a changing climate so real and the portents so dire, Montana is ignoring its duty to our children. Why would our government decide to prioritize profits over people? Shouldn’t our love for our kids, and our responsibility to future generations, trump our more selfish instincts?
Earlier this spring, the Montana legislature passed, and the governor signed, a bill making it even harder to address anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change. A news report characterized it as perhaps the nation’s most aggressive anti-climate law and stated the bill “bars state agencies from considering climate change when permitting large projects that require environmental reviews, including coal mines and power plants.”
Kian, who just finished his senior year in high school, asked me a couple of weeks ago whether it was indeed wildfire smoke obscuring our mountains. While it looked like smoke, and acted like smoke, it was hard to fathom that Montana’s smoke season had arrived in May, with our landscapes still green, lush and bursting with the promise of spring.
And yet smoke it was, pouring down across the border from far-too-early Canadian wildfires and filling our valleys with a malignant miasma that leeched the color from the air at the same time it endangered our health.
I don’t blame our kids for seeing what’s happening and feeling like they need to step up. Their future is at risk and the politicians tasked with addressing the problem have proved time and again that they’re in over their heads. Is it too much to ask, though, for our elected officials to fulfill their constitutional obligations? Do we really have to sacrifice our children and grandchildren on the altar of avarice?
It’s time for us to accept responsibility for the ongoing climate crisis. Our planet is growing hotter because we continue to burn fossil fuels, and that excess heat is having a negative impact on our health, our economy and the natural world we cherish. Addressing climate should not be a partisan issue. Nor should our children, who deserve clean air and healthy landscapes — the "clean and healthful environment” guaranteed in Montana’s constitution — be the only adults in the room.