If you’ve followed the climate change debate over the last several months – indeed, even over the last year – you may have noticed something odd: Taking action on climate change is no longer about protecting nature.
Taking action is now about how climate change will boost the economy, create green jobs, protect our national security, break our dependence on foreign oil and create new markets that will save the great forests of the world.
All of this is true, of course, and environmentalists talk about these things because we think this is what makes people want to take action on climate change. Polling tells us that nature “doesn’t resonate with the American public” during this time of economic insecurity.
But is this true?
Last week, my family and I took a vacation to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Along with tens of thousands of other American families from as far South as Georgia and as far West as Ohio, we packed up the family station wagon and endured hours of traffic to recharge along one of America’s true coastal gems.
We fished the ocean and the sound, went kayaking, took the dog on early-morning strolls along the beach, and sat on the sand contemplating the great expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. In short, we, along with thousands of others, spent good money to contemplate a natural wonder.
In the middle of the week, as I stood with my feet in the water and watched my son sand-piper up and down the shore line, dodging waves and playing unimaginable games involving superheroes and unseen villains, I looked down the coast. As far as the eye could see there were people creating similar memories. It was like looking at the pages of thousands of family photo albums.
That’s when it dawned on me: What would all these people say – these people who supposedly don’t care about nature – if you told them this place, this long thin strip of sand could disappear forever during their children’s lifetime? The beaches, the sound, the estuary, the national seashore, the surf breaks — it will all be swallowed up by an encroaching sea. Would they care about nature then, at least for a moment?
I had this thought standing only a few yards from where I proposed to my wife nearly 10 years ago. On that January day, cold and clouded with a misting rain, the beach was deserted. It was just a few brave shore birds, my wife and I. She didn’t want to leave the house, but I coaxed her down to the beach for a short walk. After a few steps, my nervousness got the best of me. I lifted the hood of her rain jacket, presented the ring and said I wanted our children and grandchildren to play on this beach someday.
That’s what I want to save from climate change. That spot in the sand. That feeling, when I proposed to my wife, when I watch my son play in the surf, when I look out over the Atlantic and think of the impossible miracle of all that water and everything it holds. The possibility that someday my grandson will play in this same ancient surf.
That’s what I want to save. Now, what do you want to save?
(Photo credit: Dave Connell/TNC.)