Since July 21, I have been following the progress of the intergenerational Walk For Our Grandchildren. The purpose of the walk is to urge President Obama to take action on climate change. The Walk, which began at Camp David and ends at the White House on July 27, was conceived by a small group of “insanely optimistic, highly committed and determined climate activists” who live in Asheville, North Carolina.
The following is an article by one of the walkers. I’m sharing it because it deserves to be widely read. I hope you will share it also.
“I’m Deborah Woolley. I’m 63, and I live in Seattle. All my life I’ve hiked, climbed, cross-country skied, and backpacked in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I work as a psychotherapist.
I joined this Walk because I went to a screening of Do The Math and had tears running down my face as I watched, tears of grief and outrage. And because, a week or two later, I went to hear Bill McKibben speak at a church, where he mentioned that planning was beginning for what was being called “Summer Heat.” I knew immediately that I wanted to participate, for here was a way to turn that grief and outrage into a powerful force. And when I heard him say that there was a special need for elders to join the action, to stand with young people, even to risk arrest, my heart lifted and I felt called. So I cancelled my registration for the eight-day meditation retreat I had scheduled for the end of July, and signed up for the eight-day Walk. Meditation is important, but it’s part of my normal life; and to continue with normal life felt like keeping my head in the sand. I joined this Walk to get my head out of the sand.
As I trained for this event, walking for hours and hours along Seattle streets, other reasons became apparent to me. I am walking because when I think of the world that my children will be living in when they reach my age if nothing is done to stop the changes currently happening to the earth, I find myself hoping that my children do not have children. A world of fires and hurricanes and floods of dimensions never seen before, of federal and state budgets so overloaded with disaster relief that there is little left for infrastructure and education and health care, of food scarcity worldwide and in the US due to drought and flooding, of coastal cities flooded and island nations underwater, of water wars and climate refugees, a world where there’s no polar ice cap and no coral reefs and no glaciers or forests left in the mountains. And when I find myself hoping I have no grandchildren, I am horrified at this hope. So I am walking to instead say, “We cannot let this future happen.”
I am walking for my daughter, who when she was in college went to a 350.org event in Washington DC called Power Shift, where young people were — as she put it in a speech she gave afterwards — “protesting the fact that money from corporations had drowned out the voices of the American people and kept Congress from passing a meaningful plan to combat climate change and ensure a livable future for all of us.” This past February she was again in Washington DC for the Forward On Climate rally.
I am here to, in a sense, follow in her footsteps — to stand where she stood and raise my voice as she did –but to take it a step further, actually 100 miles of steps further, because that is what a parent should do: We must act on behalf of our children and grandchildren. That is a biological imperative, after all: to try to protect our offspring, to ensure their survival. But it is also an ecological imperative, a social justice imperative, a spiritual imperative, and a moral imperative. “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”
I am also walking for my son, who this summer is working in the half-acre garden of the college he’s attending in upstate New York. He started out with great enthusiasm at the idea of growing food and selling it locally, but over the past month his enthusiasm turned to discouragement as he watched the garden become flooded time and time again, the plants they’d so carefully cultivated all scattered and uprooted by the unusually heavy summer rainstorms that are one dimension of climate change in the Northeast. At present the garden looks, he says, like a nuclear fallout zone, and they’re transplanting the vegetables from the garden back into the greenhouse in hopes of keeping them alive.
When I hear his distress about this, I see the future we are handing to people his age, and my heart could break. So I am walking to say: This is not acceptable. We can’t let these trends continue. I think of the flooding happening in the Northeastern US and my mind jumps to the 12,000 people stranded this spring while on pilgrimage in northern India due to flooding, and the 11 million Pakistanis left homeless last year due to flooding. These disasters are not random; it’s what we’re creating. We have to start paying attention to this. I call on our media to show us what’s happening all over the earth as a result of climate change, and to keep these images before our eyes, so that we do not deceive ourselves about them being infrequent, freak events.
And I’m walking for all the sons and daughters who have had their minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits broken as a result of the US military’s efforts to protect our access to oil. As I walk I’m praying for the suffering and destruction to end.
And I’m walking for Alberta, where my mother was born and grew into adulthood, and where the Tar Sands mining is causing people living in that region to develop cancer and other illnesses at unusually high rates — and it seems the US is not paying attention, or doesn’t care, as plans for a tar sands mine in Utah are proceeding.
In walking, I want to say to the fossil fuel industry: Enough already! We know that if we burn your existing petroleum and coal reserves, we doom ourselves to climate conditions that are unlivable — so what possible justification can there be for further extraction other than your profits? Let what’s in the ground stay there!
And lastly, I’m walking for a selfish reason: to rekindle my hope. In my twenties, I had hope — a belief that change was possible if enough people raised their voices and stood up to be counted. And changes did happen. But today, looking at the damage we’ve already done to the earth and the suffering that it’s already causing people across the globe, it’s harder for me to have hope.
So I’m coming 3000 miles (yes, burning carbon to get to the Walk) to see whether, by being with others who are willing to set aside business as usual for a week and walk together to share our anguish about what’s happening and our passionate desire to halt this slide into ecological disaster, I can find a sense of hope against all the odds, hope that feeds the spirit and sustains action.”