A new year

It seems as though we just hung up the new calendar, learned to write a new year on our checks, did the year-end bookkeeping and began making plans for 2016. The days, weeks, months and years seem to fly by.

When I was a little girl, time crawled at a snail’s pace. It seemed an eternity passed between birthdays, from one Christmas to another, from one summer vacation to another. Like all children, I anxiously, restlessly, wished I were older.  I’ve passed the middle of my life and now I’d like the days to slow down. There never seem to be enough hours, enough days, or enough weeks. Someone once told me, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer one gets to the end, the faster it goes.”

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions. I’ve never been good at keeping them. The start of a new year is really an arbitrary point anyway. The world does not stop and spin in another direction on January 1. It is simply a reference point. Even so, hanging up a new calendar is a good time to think about the future.

As someone whose roll is spinning faster each day, I don’t really have to worry about what the world will be like for me in thirty years. If I’m still around, someone else will be taking care of my needs. My children will be my age and my grandchildren will be my children’s ages. I think about the kind of world we will leave for them. Will we have put our own comfort and fear of change ahead of their future?

Will we have used up all the oil stored under the hills of western North and South Dakota? Why are we in such a rush to pump all of those barrels of oil out of the ground? Will our grandchildren need to learn to do without anything made with petroleum because we have used all the accessible oil? Will we have, in our rush to exploit those precious resources, dirtied the water they will need to live? Why do we hurry to send most of the profits generated by the sale of that crude out of our great state and even out of our country? Why would we even think about lowering the taxes levied on the extraction of this diminishing gift?

Will there be meadowlarks singing on the Northern Plains when my great grandchildren are born? Song birds are disappearing as we pave over and till the grasslands. Will there be polar bears roaming wild in the arctic? Scientist who study the great white bears report that birth rates are dropping, bears’ body weights are decreasing and they are more frequently seeking food near humans. They need sea ice to hunt and the ice is disappearing at a faster rate than most climate models have predicted.

Droughts ravage parts of Africa, Texas and Australia. Floods have killed thousands in the Philippines and destroyed billions of dollars of property here in North Dakota and across the country. Storms rage more frequently and more violently. Rainfall is more unpredictable and the earth is experiencing record high temperatures.

One hundred twenty one countries have now signed what is called the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The world governments have agreed to make efforts to keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. No country wants to be the first to reduce their carbon footprint. It might create a short term advantage to someone else. Our own political leaders have in the past chosen to ignore the well-being of future generations and have focused on maintaining things as they are. Climate scientists worry that the end of the century will be too late.

Instead of subsidizing oil production, we should be subsidizing energy conservation and renewable energy technologies. We need more public transportation, more efficient cars and trucks, better insulated homes, fewer plastic bottles, less packaging, repairable electronics and appliances. We need to grow food closer to home, to hang our clothes on clotheslines, to turn down the heat and put on another sweater.

My days are spinning by faster and faster, and the world will continue to turn even when I am gone. What will I do this year for our children and our grandchildren and their children?

Copyright © 2017 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains