her sign reads: "respect existence or expect resistance. youth vs the apocalypse."
Sophie Katz, a senior Jewish Community High School of the Bay, at the March 15, 2019 youth climate walk-out (Photo/Courtesy JCHS of the Bay)

Finally seeing climate change through my daughter’s eyes

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Our oldest child is 18 and has decided she no longer wants to eat meat. This has less to do with saving animals and more to do with saving the planet.

She worries about our warming climate. We all need to do more, she tells me. She is right.

Our Jewish values have guided my hubby and me in teaching our kids that it’s their responsibility to help make the world a better place. But when it comes to our warming climate, I have had my doubts. Can one person really make a difference, when what we really need is an administration that will invest in clean energy; a global commitment to reduce carbon emissions; rules and regulations to stop the burning of fossil fuels; and innovative ideas and policies for those who are already living in vulnerable areas?

My children may be facing a future where floods and fires are more the norm than an anomaly. They may be left with an Antarctica without ice, and a Glacier National Park (one of my kids’ favorite national parks) without glaciers. Fragile ecosystems are already out of whack.

I (naively) thought I was doing enough to reduce my carbon footprint. I’m thoughtful about sorting waste in our designated recycle and compost bins. I save and reuse glass jars. I never buy plastic water bottles, hardly ever buy plastic bags and reuse the ones I get from the grocery store. After wiping down the counters with paper towels, I rinse them with soap and water and use them again. I waste little food. Monday’s leftover rice becomes Tuesday’s fried rice. Fruit that’s been sitting around a bit too long becomes a warm compote everyone in the family enjoys. I try and walk to do my errands, when time permits, instead of taking the car.

But I have tried to do better thanks to my daughter.

If I forget to shut the lights after leaving a room (when I’m the only one in that room), she reminds me. And when, in the middle of washing the dishes with the water still running, I put something back in the fridge or place a jar in the recycle bin, she lectures me about wasting water.

I (naively) thought I was doing enough to reduce my carbon footprint.

I’ve now made a commitment to reduce our meat consumption — our small part to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The evenings when I do plan a meat meal, I try to buy less of it, and I serve it up with a hearty veggie side.

When God created Adam, according to midrash, he showed him around the Garden of Eden and said to him: “Look at My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! And all that I have created, it was for you that I created it. Pay attention that you do not corrupt and destroy My world: if you corrupt it, there is no one to repair it after you” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13).

If someone had told me when our children were born that when they became teenagers, we would have boxes of N95 respirator masks stored in our garage, I would have said they were crazy. And yet here we are. We have not been careful with God’s creation.

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist in Sweden just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, began her advocacy with a school strike that emboldened tens of thousands of young kids around the world — including my daughter — to walk out of their schools demanding action on climate change.

“What we do or don’t do right now will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren,” she said in her recent TED Talk. “What we do or don’t do right now, me and my generation can’t undo in the future.”

My daughter feels the same way. She is deeply disappointed that our government doesn’t understand the urgency on climate issues. It is, after all, about her future.

For my kids, for Greta, for all our kids, we must do better.

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.