Our Children Are Feeling the Heat
With heatwaves breaking records across the country, and fires and storms raging on both coasts, we're leaving the next generation to inherit an unimaginable burden.
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The last time it was this hot in Seattle was 12 years ago, in 2009, when I had just given birth to my first child. In the weeks following, my daughter and I sought refuge in the basement of our 1963 split-level home because, like most homes in the temperate region of the Pacific Northwest, it didn’t have air-conditioning. The thermostat next to our kitchen registered 99 degrees, unable to display triple digits. There were brownouts and buckled pavements. According to the national weather service, Seattle broke records that July, reaching 103 degrees in a region where the average high in the summer months is 72. In the last week of June this year, Seattle broke that record … twice, with temperatures reaching 108 degrees. And just this week, the Midwest is suffering from record-breaking temperatures. Add in the humidity and just being outside will be dangerous for many people.
During the heatwave of 2009, my then-husband went back into the office after our daughter was born because his finance corporate job didn’t offer paternity leave. I received 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave from my job. But I was a good corporate soldier (and afraid of losing my job), so hours after giving birth I was sending business emails from my work-issued Blackberry with my left hand, while trying to feed my newborn with my right. I was given three, unpaid months in which to bond with my baby, learn to breastfeed and get used to my new body. This, from a billion-dollar company that boasted its contributions to women’s health and sold products to ob/gyns.
The corporation that I worked for traded on a convenient lie. Professing to be about the betterment of women’s lives, it continuously put profits over people. Likewise, countless businesses proclaim their commitment to the environment while engaging in practices that put the planet at risk. Claiming to be sustainable, they’ve jumped on the green bandwagon where optics seem to take precedence over any meaningful change. Paseo, a paper company in Indonesia, created tissue boxes decorated with animals for children to color, while at the same time demolishing 2 million hectares of forest, extinguishing the natural habitats of those very same animals. Shell Oil recently asked Twitter what people were willing to do to reduce emissions, deflecting responsibility back to the consumer—as if Shell hasn’t been one of the largest climate destroyers on the planet for the last 60 years. Amazon, the crown jewel of Seattle—the founder and executive chairman, and richest man on the planet who recently spent $5.5 billion to promote luxury space travel tourism—bought naming rights to the aging Key Arena and renamed it “Climate Pledge Arena.” Considering that, in 2018, Amazon emitted 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide—greater than the carbon footprint of Switzerland—it’s going to need more than a pledge to set things right.
When I was a young girl growing up in the Midwest where temperatures are soaring this week, I made my parents collect all the recyclables and drive them to a drop-off station once a month behind the mall before anyone understood the value of recycling. I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for 16 years and I can attest that the environmental initiatives among Seattleites have far surpassed anything I witnessed in the Midwest or my short stint in the South. One study indicates that states who voted blue in the last election are twice as likely to be environmentally friendly than states who voted red. Two-thirds of Washington’s energy comes from hydroelectric power. A small portion comes from homeowners who have solar power which feeds back into the grid, and another small amount from wind farms in eastern Washington. But a quarter of Washington’s energy still comes from fossil fuels, the extraction and burning of which is the largest contributing factor to our rapid climate change. Washington state ranks 10th in the nation for environmental initiatives and still fossil fuels account for a fourth of the state’s energy needs.
My children are growing up in the Pacific Northwest. They are surrounded by the majestic beauty of mountains and oceans. In the home where they were born, a 60-year-old Douglas Fir grows three stories tall in the backyard, providing blissful shade in the summer and giving off fresh, clean oxygen all year round. The only life they have ever known is one of composting, recycling and learning about the microplastics that are making their way into our oceans. But if something doesn’t change soon, the world they are growing up in will look very different by the time they are my age.
Seattle was hotter than Miami the last week in June. My car registered 114 degrees on the hottest day. The heat in my still un-air-conditioned home was oppressive. We are in danger and I am angry. Angry that in 2021, with all we know, we are still being held hostage by fossil fuels. Angry that we are still allowing corporations to put profits over the planet. Angry that my daughter and all children are still being treated as if they don’t matter.
My 12-year-old daughter is part of the “Green Team” at school where they learn about how to care for the environment. Her Girl Scout Troop successfully lobbied her elementary school to use compostable lunch trays and silverware. My daughter created a costume last year for Halloween that included reusable produce bags tied around her waist and a planet on her T-shirt. She labeled herself “Environmentally Friendly Girl” and instead of passing out candy with palm oil, the manufacturing of which kills forests and animals, she passed out hand-written notes on how people can become better stewards of the planet. She is determined to save the world and not get trapped under its oppressive heat domes and glass ceilings. It’s a hefty burden for a child. She shouldn’t have to do this alone.
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