A Rite of Passage Gone Wrong

2019-09-28T11:38:30-07:00September 27th, 2019|The Environment|

I am one of the lucky ones – Greta Thunberg

I remember the day my stepson pulled away from the curb in our big, red Toyota 4 Runner; it was a sunny fall day and he had just passed his driver’s test. He had a license to drive and was free of driving supervision for the first time. He was free. When my daughter was just over 16 years old  I remember watching her backing out of the driveway for the first time by herself, into the newly found freedom of driving. I remember my own feelings of independence at 16 years old, for the first time, of driving away, the road rolling under the tires of my new car, able to go wherever I wanted. This ritual plays out quietly in almost every household; handing over the car keys, placing in the hands of our youth both the keys of freedom and the keys to one of the greatest catastrophe’s of our time.

This unconscious act, which is born out of our own experience, and of personal, social and cultural necessity, is at the heart of what is being perpetuated by the force of oil companies, car manufacturers and the basic structure of a society that depends on this individualistic mode of transportation. This fantasy of cars – this central image and value of freedom, is bound into what has become the greatest challenge of our times. As the youth of our age hit the streets in protest (that ironically are also part of one of the major contributing factors of climate change) most of them have gone through this same rite of passage into adulthood. Most of us have. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult to imagine a life without independent transportation.

Our cars are a sacred part of our lives. We all love the “new car smell” and most of us feel that our cars are an expression of who we are; outdoorsy, wealthy, tough or risky. Born here on American soil this technology has imbedded itself deeply into western culture and has become a central value of progress and wealth around the world. How can we begin to change this story and transform this technology of moving ourselves from one place to another? Can we come up with a better way to initiate our teens into adult culture? It seems from these past days that it’s time to come up with an alternative form of initiation. Cultures from around the earth and from times before have had ways to initiate their teens into adulthood. Now more than ever we need a way of helping these teens realize that stepping over the threshold into adulthood can look very different.

408ppm and rising…

The truth is that we have no choice. We haven’t had a choice for a long time. For many years the science has been clear – if every car were to stop on the highways around the world, there would still be enough CO2 in the atmosphere to create irreversible changes in our atmosphere. That was back when CO2 levels were below 380ppm. Today, they are 408ppm and rising. (www.CO2.earth/dailyco2) And the CO2 levels will continue to rise, because we will all continue to drive. One headline in today’s paper claims that the UN panel finds world ravaged by climate change and that the effects are already “irreversible.” (9/26/19 Seattle Times/Washington Post Chris Mooney Brady Dennis “U.N. Panel finds world ravaged by climate change.”

“The sea isn’t the only thing rising!”

Earlier this week, the news media was flooded with images of millions of young people and their supporters, striking out of school, some out of work, to try and make their message clear. Enough is enough. We are done. Greta Thunberg’s powerful young voice at her UN speech were clear:

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of economic growth. How dare you!”

As I watched Greta’s speech, I mostly wondered who her parents were. How was she initiated? What did they do for her, how did they support her when she first asked them at the dinner table what to do? They apparently didn’t hand her the car keys.

We owe it to ourselves, and all life that depends on this incredibly powerful, beautiful planet, to take a look at this simple act of handing over the car keys to our youth. “Here honey, yes, take the keys, continue what we have done in order for us not to be the generation that examines ourselves, and our practices that have gone unchecked and for continually being exploited by the oil companies and corporations that depend on transforming you into us.” When we as adults begin to realize the “fairy tale” we are living in is massively destructive, then we can begin to help our youth join Greta in becoming one of the “lucky ones.”

May we bow to what we cannot change, hand our youth the chance to survive and the wisdom to live in an ever-changing world. And, may we become thoughtful before just handing them the keys.

May we all bow to those who are coming after us, asking for their forgiveness and become humble in the face of their justified fury.

As the oceans rise and lives slide away into extinction – may we let them go in peace.

May the combustion engines fueled by the bodies of ancient animals and plants stop burning.

May we let our hearts break for all that we are losing and have no chance of saving.

As the temperature rise, we bow to what we can’t change, may we hand our youth the chance to survive, and inspire them to embrace the deep, necessary wisdom to live in an ever-changing world.

May our streets become gardens. 

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