Last year in an environmental ethics class the professor asked me why I act in the face of climate change. That’s a question I encourage everyone to ask themselves—why do you, or don’t you, act against the terrible changes happening to the natural environment? I’m motivated by the knowledge that climate change is more than a “natural disaster”—that is what keeps me from getting stuck in my mind, inactive.
I climb up the stairs of the attic of my mind, and I stumble across two things I haven’t thought about lately: my shield of morality and my toolbox of ethics. They strike me as strange, sitting there, gleaming in the dusty attic. I think I should grab them, since I was told I have to face climate change. I will need all the help I can get.
I didn’t know climate change had a face. I didn’t know that the thing causing the ice caps to melt and the caribou to starve and the streams to flood and the frogs to suffer and the hurricanes to intensify was a thing with a face. I didn’t know I could face it, stand in front of it, face-to-face. Stare into its eyes, in a no-blinking, no-wavering contest.
In the dusty attic, I turn, startled to see the face of climate change staring back at me. We lock eyes, face-to-face, not blinking.
I see that it’s true. Climate change is a monster. With a face. A hairy monstrous face that scares individuals into recycling. A monster that steals the rain from thirst-choked people and sends it to people dripping with condensed humidity.
Climate change. The warming of the planet. More energy in the weather system. More rain in some places, less in others. Melting ice and snow. Changes in temperature so minuscule that we don’t notice them, but animals do. Species loss. Biodiversity loss. Loss.
Climate change. Magnifying wealth disparities. Spreading mosquito-born disease. Intensifying the suffering due to lack of healthcare. Increases in natural disasters. Death. Suffering. Pain. We must act against this monster climate change that harms us. This is us against nature, against the weather, against the changing sea levels.
As I stare into the eyes of climate change, I realize that I recognize the features of this monster. The curving brow, the arching nose, the deep eyes. I reach up to my face and feel something there. I pull off the mask, pulling hard to reveal the reflection of a self I had long ago forgotten.
Climate change is a monster. And it does have a face. But that face is not nature. That face is me, or rather, humankind. This is me against myself, humankind against humankind. As I stare into the mirror, into the eyes of climate change, unwavering and unblinking in my effort to win this staring contest with a mirror, I think. I think about what I usually do when someone or something is harmed.
I normally strap on my protective shield of morality and grab my toolbox of ethics and step into the fray. No matter whether it was me or another who was harmed, a thing or a friend, a tropical frog unable to spawn in the puddles too deep or arctic caribou digging for foliage under snow too thick. No matter whether it was beautiful or unique, useful or valuable, or anything but itself. No matter whether it was mine or will be mine, or will help me or my children, or will do anything other than exist.
It is my moral obligation, my ethical imperative, to try to counteract and mend the harm done in the world.
As I stare into the eyes of humanity, I am trying to stare down the do-er of these wrongs. If only I could catch the person who started this, I could fix it all.
But I realize that it doesn’t matter who started this or who knew about it or who let it go on. What matters is that everything has a right to live and thrive. Each plant, each mountaintop, each ant, each elephant. We all have a responsibility to heal the wounds that have been caused and to help everything thrive to the fullest.
As I stare into the eyes of humanity, I start to dust off my shield of morality and my toolbox of ethics. One in my left hand, one in my right, I hurry from the attic of mind, ready to see the true face of climate change. I hope you won’t get stuck in the attic of your mind—I’m waiting for you to join me.
Hannah Anderson-Baranger is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Thursday.