About twelve years ago I didn’t really understand Climate Change but I was actually looking forward to it, sort-of like a good mystery I could become enthralled with. At the time all I knew was I wanted a different lifestyle, and I thought, maybe Climate Change might make that happen? Maybe my life will actually be better because of it? I had this fantasy about being a self sufficient bohemian gourmet, growing my own food harvested right in my yard. Mother Earth magazine seemed so bucolic. I wanted the opposite of my cramped apartment in San Francisco. In 2008 Climate Change was just an excuse to make changes, quit a job and move.
I moved East, close to my dad. I didn’t mention anything about Climate Change to my father, a total denier who was a meteorologist when he was in his 20s. There was no amount of practical data that would change his mind. He retired in ’93, with nothing to be stressed about so he simply didn’t care about anything but football, fishing and food.
When I moved I was still looking forward to Climate Change because it turned into another kind of selfish excuse. It was suddenly cool to care about something other than work. I could brag about being passionate about sustainability. Although my concern for the environment was genuine I just didn’t like driving. I tried to turn Climate Change into into an excuse to work from home. But it’s hard to admit that to people that you hate driving. Especially your father who loves cars. When I complained about commuting my dad would say, “You know, it’s because of cars that the economy is so great. Imagine how many jobs would be lost if people stopped driving.” Completely missing my point.
My dad didn’t want the changes that I wanted. I thought my dad was lucky, I thought his generation had it easy. I saw the whole world being much harder for me and my peers. Much much more expensive. I couldn’t talk to my dad about any of this, he wouldn’t appreciate my point of view because that would be disrespectful. I would be one of those “ungrateful” young people excoriated by Fox News.
Years went by, I settled into life on the East Coast and the world was good. Life carried along like normal, and I still fantasized about Climate Change, because by this point “normal” didn’t seem that great and “change” still seemed better. As I’d go for walks, seeing the reality of nature in contrast with my digital life, I knew that taking the high road on climate would be expensive.
Often, without warning, my dad would toss out a quote from some radio quack, and I would be damned if I didn’t argue back. “Dad, I just don’t want people to live in flood zones.” I’d try to make the practical argument. “Why not be smarter about how we do things? That would save money, right?” He wouldn’t have a good reply to something like that. My father was still in denial. “It’s normal for the climate to change.” He’d say, “There’s nothing anybody can do about it, and I do’t care.” Then he’d change the subject.
I have to admit that all they way up until 2017 Climate Change didn’t seem that bad. It seemed as if my father was right about that one, but I wasn’t going to admit defeat because I still cared. I cared even though nobody else did. But like a horse in a bridle my attention was turned to what other people wanted me to care about, not what I wanted myself.
And then he died. Just short of his beloved summertime and two months before Harvey drowned Texas in three feet of rain. He was gone but in my mind we were still arguing. “betcha didn’t think 3 feet of rain could drop at one time, dad.” I’d say to him in my head. He would reply, still in my head, “Do you remember that incredible barbecue place we went to in Austin?”
Over my father’s lifetime the world became a better place and he prospered along the way. He would be 82 years old now. From my perspective it seems like everything is getting worse. When, if, I make it to 80, I don’t think I’ll do as good as he did even though I had such a better start than him. Twelve years ago I had this weird fantasy that Climate Change was going to fix all the annoying things about life, but nothing changed.
I used to look forward to Climate Change but now my optimism, like the Greenland ice sheet, has been dissipating at an accelerating pace. At work I am all about improving things. Being a user experience designer is sort of like having a curse because you start to look at everything and you want to improve it because improvement is in your DNA. But you can’t.
The only thing I can do is pose a question to you. If your future were a story which would you want it to be? The Hunger Games, where kids are made to kill each other? Or Star Trek, where intelligent life strives to better the universe? The Hunger Games was very entertaining but I don’t want to live in Panem. I’d rather be at Star Fleet Headquarters.