March 15, the Ides of March. Hundreds of thousands of youth and allies are in the streets, marching for a healthier planet: the pictures bring tears to my eyes.
There is a sense of a diagnosis being made, en masse. The children of the world have shunned the system created by adults—the schools, as being inadequate to the moment. They are looking into each other’s eyes, confirming that climate change is an existential threat to their health and well-being, and that their elders have failed to protect them. The leadership of adults is being questioned on an unprecedented global scale.
There is comfort (and inaction) in the feeling that someone, somewhere is probably taking care of things. There is silence and loneliness, particularly for young people who are just feeling their way into adult spaces, in the thought, “this seems horribly off to me, but no one else is saying anything, so maybe I’m wrong.”
That has been stripped away. The scale of the climate crisis and the threat it poses to human life has just been made clear in the starkest possible terms by youthful truth-tellers.
There is tremendous value in stating a diagnosis out loud. In the Emergency Department trauma room, it gets the team on the same page and is the beginning of an adequate plan.
Children are no longer worried and lonely. They have joined forces. They are rising. The youthful leaders of my profession in the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations say this of themselves, “We are too young to know what is impossible. So we do it anyway.” And they do.
"The scale of the climate crisis and the threat to human life has just been made clear in the starkest possible terms by youthful truth-tellers. There is tremendous value in stating a diagnosis out loud," writes ER Doc @courtghoward
These children will also. But they do not often sit at tables of power. We do. So we must bring them to the table, learn from their courage and teachings, erase all knowledge of what we think is possible, and simply provide adequate treatment for our climate emergency.
We’re at the stage in the movie where the inspirational soundtrack starts. Where the leader states the mission aloud. Where new teams and plans form, and acts of courage begin. We have the tools we need, at the right prices, to make the change that is required to maintain a stable global civilization. We are living a critical plot twist in the greatest human drama of our history. I’d pay to see this movie. We all would.
We are also at the point in the story where the scale of the challenge is newly clear to many who were previously less aware. Where we see shots of the hero awake in bed at night. Where those who have told themselves that they benefit from the way things are feel guilty, get mad, dig their heels in harder. Where people comfort one another quietly before entering the fray, before making their first, small change.
Let us be kind. Let us be generous with our compassion. Many will be feeling tender. Many will be having uncomfortable thoughts about what this means for their life — about new directions they realize they need to take. Many will be mustering courage.
For myself, for many, when the diagnosis of climate change truly landed, when I realized that it was my children’s generation that would live with wildfires, smoke, heat events, Lyme disease, and the risk of progressive food insecurity, and conflict, I was devastated. I spent six months in a state of unreality, feeling sad when I looked at my beautiful children, savouring each bite of civilization as though it was my last. We now have words for this: ‘ecological grief,’ ‘ecoanxiety.’ Every new dire statistic was like a punch to my solar plexus. I questioned whether it was worth it to go to my work in the Emergency Department.
I walked through that. At a certain point you know what’s what, which is that we need to do as much as we can, as urgently as we can. At a certain point, you realize that living a good Tuesday is critical to giving you the energy to contribute. That taking time that day, and every day, to tickle your children and revel in their laughter, to help someone, to enjoy a meal with friends, to move and feed and sleep your body — these not only give true meaning to life, but give you the energy you need to contribute. At a certain point you have realigned your life maximally, within your abilities, to respond to this new information. You have changed what you eat, how you travel, how you spend your time. You have sought and found the partners you need to ensure that your contributions are maximal. You are going flat-out. In that alignment, in that practice, there is peace.
There are barriers for all of us to reach that alignment. Financial barriers, social barriers, time barriers. No response is perfect. We all have a “gotcha.” We are all human. I’ve been an ER doc for over 10 years, so I know for sure that the richest, the poorest, the most powerful, the most disenfranchised amongst us are all wonderful, fallible, flawed, funny and insightful.
A perfect response does not exist. But your best response does. Only you know what that is. Only you will be able to hold yourself account. Only you need to be able to meet your own eyes in the mirror in the morning, and a child’s eyes tomorrow.
It is a new diagnosis. A new day. Be kind to one another. Draw courage from one another. Rise.