There is a well-known Calvin and Hobbes comic strip that shows Calvin looking up at the stars yelling “I’m significant!” He looks small relative to the starry sky in each frame, until the final frame, when he dejectedly adds, “Screams the dust speck.”
It is all too easy to feel like a speck of dust when confronted with the universe of environmental issues facing our planet, none bigger than global warming (or climate change, if you prefer).
The recent spate of hot weather has had my family discussing this at the dinner table. Is this what Washington’s future will be like? Will my children’s children be playing in dusty brown yards, harvesting apples in June, watching species blink out one after the other? Dealing with all the traffic and rising home prices from the Californians moving here in droves to escape their desertification? What will they say about my generation, that we had all the science but never really did anything until it was too late?
Even though I know the current drought and heat waves are more likely connected to an El Nino event than a sudden change due directly to global warming, this weather has given my family a harsh window into a potential future. And this talk of an impending mini-ice age is no help. Turns out any shift of solar activity will be far outweighed by our warming trends.
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So what’s a family to do? I had my pre-teen son help me complete a “carbon calculator” on the internet to get a sense of the share our family has in adding to this problem of increasing pollution and global warming. Good news is, we have a relatively small footprint, what with our efficient water heater, tiny house, and the fact both parents walk to work. Long road trips and plane trips are our Achilles heels. But besides not traveling as much (not likely), there isn’t a whole lot we can do to make a significant impact on this huge problem of the planet getting hotter. It’s the big carbon emitters that paint us all into a corner, and that’s why there has been such talk lately of ways to invest in green energy and make polluters pay (and therefore, we hope, innovate away from being such polluters).
I had gotten excited about the cap and trade scheme being discussed by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier in the year, but that now seems to be dying on the vine (like my unwatered veggies). My neighbors are heavily involved in an alternative approach, an initiative (I-732, previously supported by The Olympian) that would tax carbon emitters and use that money to benefit working schmucks like myself by way of a reduced sales tax and tax rebate for working families under a certain income. There are many other details of this scheme that intrigued me while casually talking to my dedicated, retired neighbors who spend hours in the unglamorous position of trying to gather petition signatures at the Farmers Market and other locales about town. I was impressed by their energy and ability to get involved as individuals on an issue so overwhelming.
I’ll admit, I usually run from signature-gatherers, especially when juggling kids and groceries, but my neighbors’ passion and the innovative approach of this initiative got me thinking. I may have even picked up a petition to help get signed by my circle of friends. I was able to talk to my son about what an initiative is, the role of the Legislature and the role of voters, something my kids have been curious about around here since we keep getting door-belled by potential local council, board and commission candidates (in the hot weather, poor souls). It’s a wonderful lesson in democracy.
I am inspired by the grassroots nature of I-732, and inspired by seeing people I know and respect put real time into an issue they care about. That is an empowering thing to do, no matter the issue. Because all politics comes down to you and me and our single, individual efforts. Even if we are just a bunch of specks of dust, every day we make a significant whirlwind of change.
So if you see my neighbors trying to talk to you about global warming, please don’t run. They are really nice people, putting their spare time into something that might actually allow individuals like me be more than a dust speck. You may or may not sign on, but it’s worth looking into.
Jennifer Davis is an environmental planner and writer striving for that elusive balance of work, motherhood, married life, and productive citizenship (meaning, she does a lot of laundry). She is a member of The Olympian’s 2015 Board of Contributors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.