This article first appeared in Geez Magazine Issue 54, Fall 2019.
The Friz is back in the house. As a child, I joined Ms. Frizzle on trips down Arnold’s esophagus and through the water cycle. Now, I’m reading The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge to my 5-year-old.
We follow as the class turns into sunbeams that bounce up from the earth but get trapped by greenhouse gases. They put on special microscope-goggles to see the gas molecules in the air, including all the carbon dioxide being put out by cars, houses, and power plants.
“We could dry our clothes on the line in the summer and just use the dryer in the winter,” my son suggests. We do have a line, but I’m too busy these days to use it much. I tell him this, but wonder – how do I explain the calculus between convenience and conservation? Are my own compromises justified?
“Why don’t we all just take buses?” he asks. How do I explain poor urban planning and suburban sprawl? How do I explain our addictions to and illusions of independence, our purchased distance from unsavory neighbors?
“We could have a big kitchen and everybody could get their food there.” His ideas are endless.
The last one is not unlike my parents’ experience in Mao-era China, when the state set up communal kitchens. The pork with hot peppers was quite good, my mom recalls.
Perhaps, like the children in Ms. Frizzle’s class with their goggles, my son can see things I cannot, and envision new possibilities not burdened by the weight of past failures. The young are naïve, but that’s why we need them.
But then, they also tell the truth. “It’s too late,” he says, looking at the countless scribbles of CO2 emissions in the picture. In my heart, I apologize endlessly to my children and curse the short-sightedness of every generation. “Yes,” I say. “We’ll never get back to the way it was here,” pointing at the caveman picture where only one lone CO2 scribble came from the campfire.
I look at my son – leaning forward, looking hard, trying to take it all in. Child, don’t give up on this world, I pray. I won’t, either. For your sake.