Which side are you on?

This past week was a perfect illustration of how many compelling distractions there are to the main business at hand.

After all, it’s much more interesting to focus on the good news of a Supreme Court blessing for gay marriage, or to follow the spy-novel intrigue of the Edward Snowden case, or to watch President Obama set foot in the tiny prison cell that kept Nelson Mandela captive for 18 years—much more fun than thinking seriously about the elephant in the room, climate change.

I was happy, and somewhat astonished, to see Obama finally seize that elephant by the tusks and deliver a speech that acknowledged how important climate change will be to our collective, planetary future.

Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

In the speech, Obama declared that “the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science — of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements — has put all that to rest. Ninety-seven percent of scientists…have now…acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.

“So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren.

“As a President, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.

“I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing. And that’s why, today, I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a leader — a global leader — in the fight against climate change.”

To me what’s most important in this speech is that way that the President is appealing to the country as a father. 

Those of us who are parents know that there is no higher priority for us than the welfare of our children.

We practically kill ourselves to provide for our children.  We go into debt to buy them high-quality food, medical care and education.  We go without so that they can have whatever it is that they need.

We would never knowingly feed them poison.  We would never knowingly do something that would undermine their future.

And yet, let’s be honest: most of us are doing just that, all the time, every day.

If you buy your kid a fast-food meal, you are contributing to the Monsantification of the world.

If you drive your car, heat your house with fossil fuels, or run your air conditioner, you are contributing to the super-heating of the atmosphere.

The vaunted American lifestyle is the problem.  President Obama didn’t quite come out and say so in his speech, but it’s not hard to read between his carefully calibrated lines and see what he is implying.

“Someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don’t you want that?”

Yes, of course we all want that.

We don’t want to end up shivering and starving in a blighted, devastated world, knowing that it was our own greed and short-sighted stupidity that brought us to this point of no return.

If we care about our own dear children, we need to make improving our relationship with the planet a priority.

That means no more poisons, no more GMO food, no more fossil fuel extraction at the expense of the natural environment, no more heedless burning our way to kingdom come.

As the President said, “those of us in positions of responsibility, we’ll need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of posterity. Because you and your children, and your children’s children, will have to live with the consequences of our decisions.”

Will have to live or die with the consequences of our decisions, that is.

Are you willing to condemn your grandson or granddaughter to a short, miserable existence on Earth, brought to a rapid end by climate-induced super-storms or famine?

I’m sorry to be so bald about it, but these are the stakes.

Which side are you on?  And what are you willing to do to ensure that future generations on this planet have a chance to enjoy the abundance and beauty that we and our parents have taken for granted?

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