Alarmed

Whether I’m changing diapers or refereeing lunch, I’m thinking about how “we” respond to kids and how “we” respond to climate change. It’s a surprisingly rich vein of thought, and I’m mining it for all its worth. I apologize if you, reader, have had enough of these parenting chats. Clearly, I haven’t.

There’s a pattern in this household: every evening, dinner is ready at about 7:00 pm. When M., the 4 year old, is called to dinner, there is always a tantrum. That is consistent regardless of whatever else is going on, though the tantrum itself appears to have different triggers each day.

I’m pretty sure that the problem is a matter of the timing of dinner and the tantrum response. This is where climate change comes in. Also whiplash, for those of you still on board here.

This tantrum pattern is rather like the evidence we have for climate change–it’s consistent, it’s clear, and it tells me that something needs to change. We need to make adjustments. Maybe dinner should be earlier, but that’s not really possible with the parents’ work schedules.

A common, intuitive response to tantrums–when they come in the form of all-tears breakdown–is to comfort the child, to distract her, to find a short-term solution to the problem, and then to apologize to anyone nearby for all the racket. This makes a certain amount of sense, and can keep a certain amount of peace.

On a household level, I will grudgingly say that this can work, I guess. On a global level, bringing bags to the grocery store–essentially a way to “appease” environmentalists–and pursuing short-term strategies for energy development, like fracking, are not going to be effective against climate change.

We’re simultaneously too alarmed, and not alarmed enough. Tonight, M broke down in “real tears” because she wasn’t allowed to watch yet another episode (she had already watched several) of a show she likes because it was dinner time. It wasn’t a serious problem at all, yet the drastic crying prompted a swift comforting response from mom.

Right now, the climate is changing rapidly enough that large populations are starting to feel the effects [see also: Philippines, Hurricane Sandy, etc.]. This is a serious problem, and there is a sense in which I want to say that it’s impossible to be too alarmed. In general, I think it’s obvious that we’re collectively not alarmed enough about the very real problems climate change will pose for humanity in the coming decades. 

Yet at the same time, I’m often so panicked about climate change that I can’t figure out what to do next. I’m so alarmed that I’m willing to buy half a dozen reusable bags to make myself feel better about the situation. Sometimes I feel that I’m doing the verbal equivalent of “hugging” climate change–I’m just blathering on about it. In “real life,” I’m not agitating for change or working on policy or even eating only local, organic food.

I’m looking up real estate in Maine to see if I could find a way to create a self-sufficient homestead far enough inland to survive the rising ocean within my lifetime. I’m applying to graduate school to find common ground with others in the “alarmed” camp. I’m trying to cut back on my gaufrettes* habit so I can generate less trash/recycling.

*Embarrassingly, my favorite “French food” so far are waffles. Big airy waffles sold on the street and dripping with warm Nutella or tiny crunchy stacks of “waffles” covered in chocolate. Hopefully this is something I can be appropriately alarmed about.

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