This I Believe

Donna - Setauket, New York
Entered on March 2, 2007

I believe Americans can cure the problem of global warming. I didn’t always feel this way. My former prognosis for the people of this planet: we’re doomed.

When it came to speaking out on the subject a decade ago, the researchers and scientists I knew didn’t want to stick their neck out and publicly admit what their research was telling them. Being perceived as an alarmist was bad for business. What they said to me in private conversations was different from the conclusions they presented at public lectures.

It’s different now. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has officially declared that the planet is warming and human activity is to blame.

Global warming might not seem like a big deal. We could all just pack a cooler and head to Canada. But global climate change means mass extinctions. We are in the midst of a mass extinction more rapid and dramatic than the planet experienced in the age of dinosaurs, American Museum of Natural History biologists say. The earth’s been around for 4.5 billion years and scientists have seen no other extinction like this.

Now that the conversation is shifting and discussions are about how people can break the cycle of dependence of fossil fuel energy, I’m suddenly hopeful.

Though I do have a new energy-efficient boiler in my basement, I drive an SUV, leave the lights on in the house at night and turn up the heat when I’m cold. If the world and people living in it are to change. I had better start by making a difference right here in my own home.

I always thought I could live close to the earth like early Native Americans. They, like nature itself, believed in leaving no waste. I love the crackle of an outdoor fire and the smoky fragrance of burning wood. Building vessels out of wet clay and weaving reeds into baskets is more satisfying to me than driving 20 minutes through busy intersections and traffic lights to go shopping at the mall.

Sister Suzanne Marie, as my third grade teacher, told the story of Noah and the flood to our class back in 1969. She said Noah’s neighbors made fun of him for building an arc in his backyard. Sister Suzanne made that story real for me in the age before glacial meltdowns. She taught me to act responsibly even in the face of criticism.

Solving the climate crisis means me and 300 million other people in this nation – not to mention the world – need to find solace in another way of living.

The books I’ve been reading on ancient ethics from the East on Taoism, Buddhism and Stoicism provide some answers. Though each of these religions is nuanced with its own distinctive qualities, they all describe living the good life. They teach you how to live in touch with your inner self. And it’s gratifying.

Americans living in the 21st century are flooded with stimulus. It’s nearly impossible not to grab at all the flash and flavor streaming before us. If there is one single message to deliver from ancient Eastern philosophy to modern society – tune into the ways of desire. True happiness is found by curbing desire. I’ve been practicing for five weeks and already I feel happy and in control of my destiny. From these books of wisdom I’ve learned that my opinions and my actions are the only two things I control in this world.

While the gigantic problem of a chemically altered atmosphere looms large overhead, just like every other American, my opinions and my actions are all that I have. And I believe this might be enough.