A Cincinnati public education board member approached me recently, thinking I knew something about climate change. She asked me what I would stress in developing a climate change curriculum for elementary students. I thought about it for a bit and responded; teach humanity (no surprise for anyone who knows me). With a confused look on her face, I explained that at one point we were all equal. All of us struggled to learn how to walk and talk. How to eat and read, how to share and care for others. I tried to make the point that leaving behind an egocentric mentality that we all have as children is not easy for anyone, but it is something we all learn to do… with varying amounts of tantrums. It takes time and heaps of patience from our elders to move from infant to toddler, toddler to child and child to adult. Somewhere along this evolutionary path, many of us (myself included) forget these lessons associated with letting go of the big I.
Having talked about climate change for 20 years now, I’ve realized that climate change is all about the big I, and most of us are infants when it comes to climate change comprehension. And as silly as it sounds, each of us needs to remember our long path out of egocentricity to understand climate change. Climate change flourishes on the big I, inequality. It forces those least responsible for its creation to bear the greatest burden.
What would it mean to us if we shared our resources with others who had little or nothing? If we listened with compassion to those calling out for help from around the world? Or if we took care of everyone, from our closest neighbors to that one distant relative only seen at Thanksgiving with the same amount of care and compassion? What if we did this for people we never met before: individuals we consciously or unconsciously rob of basic daily needs like clean water or food? Why should I care about that homeless person on the street or why would I care about someone killed in the latest tornado, flood, fire, cyclone, earthquake, tsunami or whatever unnatural disaster were to hit next? What if one day it were to happen to me? Even though I did everything right, what if?
Disasters have no measuring stick, the only ones who do… us. So what would I teach kids in a climate change curriculum? Not science. That would scare them to death. I would teach them to apologize. Play fair in the playground. Take responsibility for mistakes big and small. CARE. Care for something as if your life depended on it, and extend that feeling towards a multitude of others.
You see, somewhere along our paths to adulthood many of us lost these lessons learned so early in our lives. I fear the Earth is teaching us daily; lessons for survival, and we are ignoring everyone. Today we are locked up in confined spaces and the Earth is healing itself. Without us! The Earth has wiped out civilizations before. Those of us who have survived unnatural disasters know this. Maybe they too did not heed mother nature’s warnings. Forgotten seminal experiences of respect and compassion on a global scale.
Religion, for better or worse, has taught followers the power of care and empathy for others, animals, and Earth in almost every text, but we have missed these lessons… and for what? So with 10 years left in our collective existence, as we know it (2018 IPCC Report) I would stress that schools teach compassion. The students will need it when they are older, and this may be the one thing left to move humanity forward in this last decade on Earth as we know it.