March 16th, 2019
When you grow up in a city like New York, there’s a sense of novelty around nature.
The sidewalks that sprawl from the epicenter of your home feel infinite, bar the weeds that push through their cracks and sporadic parks.
Weekend trips beyond urban borders are the early childhood equivalent to a David Attenborough documentary.
And if you grow up without a household pet, rats and pigeons are the closest wildlife encounters you’ll ever have.
This, for me, was never enough.
I relished weekend excursions out of Manhattan as a child. I felt the crunch of autumn leaves on forest paths. I caught lightning bugs in jars as adults mused over after-dinner drinks.
I found the relative outdoor silence a bit unsettling but tried to welcome it.
I became a semi-regular devotee at the Museum of Natural History and was lucky enough to attend the opening of its Marine Hall where I found a troop of kids who darted from display-to-display, marveling at trinkets and beasts of the sea. The adults were huddled around high tables topped with nibbles and dips.
We seem to have a fascination with nature as a child that dulls as we age. Starfish in a shallow pool becomes something to raise your eyebrows at in slight disbelief, rather than rush to hold in your own small palms. Other things take precedence. We find the wildness in each other, instead of what’s around us.
“It is no longer climate change. It’s climate changed. It’s disproportionate. And it mostly affects those with very little involvement in its doing.”
Reporting from the climate strike before Leinster House yesterday, surrounded by over 10,000 students, I thought back to the child and student I used to be not too long ago.
How fascinated she was with forests and the ocean. I knew she would be among the masses protesting, but I did wonder what the placard in her hands would say.
And as I closed my laptop after filing my news piece, something else occurred to me. I was among the last generation of children that didn’t feel the dread that these students now feel.
Climate change was something mentioned in passing in geography class, and we all tried to recycle. But climate chaos was a future that felt hundreds of years down the line – one that I would never know, one that only lived in apocalyptic films.
Little did I know that such dystopia already existed for many while I was letting those lightning bugs back into the indigo summer evening.
Droughts, heat waves, rising sea level – it is no longer climate change. It’s climate changed. It’s disproportionate. And it mostly affects those with very little involvement in its doing.
These children are now afraid of what nature, or rather what nature’s response to our behaviour, will look like.
I spoke to a mother recently who told me about the lengths she goes to ensure her small children fall in love with nature, by spinning myths and legends about the nearby forest.
She dreads the day they realize its fallibility and how its undoing ultimately comes down to our action – and to our inaction.
Yesterday, I imagined the moment these chanting students realized this. Were they told about what might come to be over the kitchen table?
Was it through a slow-drip of information, pieced together through snippets? Have any of them seen the consequences with their own eyes and resigned themselves to tell about it?
I don’t know. But I do know that a furl of innocence was stolen from them at an age where I still reveled in it.
As I tried to get wide-angle shots of the congregating strike, a mother and two children stood in front of me, taking in what was happening. I gingerly passed by them to follow the crowd, but stopped when I saw the youngster’s sign.
“I don’t want to live on Mars.”