On Memorial Day, my wife and I spent a few reflective moments honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. We attended a ceremony at the flag pole in the center of our small Hudson Valley town.
One of the keynote speakers was octogenarian Alice Gerard, a long-time resident of the community. She began traditionally enough, but like a nimble point guard, she soon pivoted to a pressing current subject for all Americans to consider. (You can see her full remarks, here, printed with her permission.)
“Memorial Day honors the men and women who served in our military forces and those who gave their lives for our country,” Ms. Gerard began, “from the Revolutionary War through the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was a child during World War II, and still remember the emotions of fear and hope in this country as the Allied forces struggled with our enemies in Europe and the Pacific. It was a battle for civilization, one that averted a threat that would have destroyed the world as we knew it.”
She soon turned to the core of her remarks, “I was reminded of this recently when I realized that we are facing another battle, even more consequential. If we lose this battle, it could be the end of humanity on earth.” Alice Gerard then addressed the issue of climate change from a very personal perspective. “I am 88 years old and of course have noticed changes in the environment. The average date for the first frost is several weeks later now than it was when I started gardening; we have much less snow in the winter…and more rain the rest of the year; deer ticks are everywhere and threaten us with several serious diseases… As a child, I could play in the woods and roll in the grass without fear of ticks.”
She went on to cite well-research statistics and incidents from around the globe in support of her personal observations. In the end, she challenged her friends and neighbors. “I care too much to give up. Although our government will have to develop policies and laws to protect us, we are the soldiers in this battle and there are things that each of us can start doing now.”
She went on to list some very practical things—become an informed advocate for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, eat less meat and dairy, invest in solar panels, change from incandescent to LED lighting, walk instead of drive—and then she concluded her remarks, “When we look around us on this beautiful day in May, it’s hard to believe in the reality of the threat ahead. But it is real, and unless we act the future will be bleak. I hope you will join in this battle for the future of the earth.”
I was inspired by the ability of this community elder to connect the dots between Memorial Day and the daunting challenge of climate change, and her courage to make that connection publicly.
And then, on that very same day, the New York Times published an article, entitled Trump Administration Hardens Its Attack on Climate Science, as if in contradistinction to the sentiments expressed by Ms. Gerard. The juxtaposition could not have been more striking.
The Times reported, “In the next few months, the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration. It will expand its efforts to impose Mr. Trump’s hard-line views on other nations, building on his retreat from the Paris accord and his recent refusal to sign a communiqué to protect the rapidly melting Arctic region unless it was stripped of any references to climate change.
“And, in what could be Mr. Trump’s most consequential action yet, his administration will seek to undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests.”For example, future reports by the US Geological Survey will use “only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040, rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously…Scientists say that would give a misleading picture because the biggest effects of current emissions will be felt after 2040.
“‘Nobody in the world does climate science like that,’ said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton. ‘It would be like designing cars without seatbelts or airbags.’ And Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany [remarked], ‘There is this arrogance and disrespect for scientific advancement — this very demoralizing lack of respect for your own experts and agencies.’”
Thank you, Alice Gerard, for reminding us of the hard truths about Memorial Day, about the dedication of those who served in the past as well as the sacrifice we are all called upon to make as we realistically approach the future. If only the current administration could be so prescient.