Kids have a way of putting my deep-rooted cynicism into the proper perspective.
Specifically, my kids. When I look at them it’s hard not to think about the future.
Wednesday was Earth Day, as my oldest, soon to be 8-year-old daughter, pointed out over breakfast. At her school it’s part of a celebration that’s now apparently known as Earth Week.
Typically, at least when not in the company of youthful innocence, my response to Earth Day, or Earth Week for that matter, would be a heavy sigh and defeated head shake. It’s not that I don’t care about the environment, sustainability, or shutting off the water when I shave; it’s just that whole deep-rooted cynicism thing has a way of rearing its ugly head.
If you’re paying any attention at all, it’s hard not to feel like we’re doomed, heading to our demise in a fossil-fuel burning handbasket. And it’s hard to see what a quaint little gesture like Earth Day, now in its 45th year, is going to do for anyone when polar bears are drowning, rainforests are disappearing, billions of pounds of garbage are floating in our oceans, and politicians are spending their time debating the legitimacy of science.
Far from celebrating the Earth, I usually feel more like weeping for it.
But then, across the table from me at breakfast, sits my daughter.
“You should write about Earth Day,” she looked up and said Tuesday morning, her eyes full of optimism. I knew she was serious because she took a break from the comics, a section of The News Tribune that impresses her far more than mine.
“Of course it is, dear. Now go brush your teeth,” I responded.
In the moment, it was all I could muster, but the conversation stuck with me. More than inspiration, what hit me was guilt.
I arrived at the office hoping to find someone capable of making me feel better, and — even more — someone who could restore even just a little bit in my faith in humanity and our future.
“I have a young child, too, and sometimes I get a little depressed as well, and worried about the future,” Kristin Lynett, the manager of Tacoma’s Office of Environmental Sustainability and Policy, told me over the phone, acting partly in her official capacity and partly as an unwitting pro-bono therapist. “But I can’t give up. I couldn’t look at her and say, ‘Sorry we did this to you and your kids.’
“I just feel like we got ourselves into this mess, so we’ve got to get ourselves out.”
Attempting to act like a journalist, and not just a lost man searching for a reason for optimism, I asked Lynett for a few examples of things we’re doing here in Tacoma that give her hope for the future. She responded with a list of achievements and initiatives, things like the city’s green roads and policy program, which looks to further a move toward sustainable design and construction, and the citywide goal of diverting 70 percent of solid waste from our landfills by 2028.
She was particularly proud of the Healthy Homes Healthy Neighborhoods program, an effort that in two years of existence has connected the Wapato Lake and Dometop neighborhoods with one-on-one assistance with making homes more environmentally friendly through things like energy efficiency and the replacement of outdated wood stoves.
Her list went on.
Taken individually, of course, none of these things will save the world. Lynett tells me that’s not the point. It’s more about the cumulative effect, she says, and the potential power of people across the world doing what they can. That’s where hope resides.
“It all starts with little things,” Lynett said. “Yeah, I can get depressed, but I just want my daughter to have a beautiful place to live. If we can’t have hope on Earth Day, when can we?
“I’ve got to fight, right?”
I hung up the phone thinking she might be on to something.
And, for the sake of our kids, I sure hope she is.