My youngest son lives for skiing. It is, I know, a rather privileged hobby to have, and we are not a particularly well-off family. But when I took him at the age of 4 to ski for the first time in California’s Lake Tahoe, he showed me something that I’ll never forget.
I’d thrown out my back the day before our trip and couldn’t take him up the mountain as planned, and he’s not a group lesson sort of kid. So I stood at the bottom of the beginner’s hill, offered a few tips and then watched as he carried his skis all the way up the hill, skied down, then walked up the hill and did it again, and again, all day long — with an enormous smile on his face.
Now 10 years old, my son has far outpaced me. He sleeps with his skis in his bedroom. And, from November through April, he asks, every week, sometimes every day and several times a day: Can we go skiing? His combination of passion and skill has led me to do everything I can so he can do what he loves.
But this season, there has been far more at play than his desire and my ability to support his passion. Across California, the snowpack has been 25 percent of the historical average. The state’s $1.3 billion ski industry has been feeling it, with some resorts remaining closed and others closing for weeks at a time.
And just this month, as U.S. News & World Report reported, a new Stanford University study found a link between global warming and California’s historic drought, which has parched farmland, strained cities and shuttered seven ski resorts for lack of snow.
As a mother, these facts make my heart sink. For my son may be the most optimistic person I know but, eventually, he will have to reckon with the reality that skiing in California is changing — and not in ways skiers dream of.
So, what does a parent do when you know your child’s greatest love — the thing he imagines designing his future around — feels like it is slipping away because of something as seemingly out of our control as climate change?
This is a deeply profound question and not one that is easily answered. Indeed, for me, the question of how we as parents relate to the wide range of threats climate change poises to our children — many far more significant than dashed dreams of snow — is the question of a lifetime and the focus of my work.
But here are a 3 things I know:
1. I want to remain hopeful, but not foolishly so — for there is a fine line between hope and wishful thinking, and wishful thinking will not protect our children.
2. I want to allow myself to get skillfully angry — because the alternative is a quiet despair and inaction, or the kind of talk that tends to get one dismissed as “shrill” or worse.
3. I want to take whatever action is open to me, and to support other individuals and organizations that are doing so — because we need each other. Climate change is simply too big to tackle in the solitude of our own minds and hearts.
That is why I was recently heartened to see so many California organizations have signed the Ceres Climate Declaration that calls on the U.S. Government to implement a national strategy to combat climate change. And it is why I just signed up myself.
No one action will, of course, combat a challenge as great as climate change. Nor will it roll back the clock on California’s historic drought. Addressing climate change is a great mountain we have to climb. But when I think about my young son carrying his skis up the hill that day, I am inspired. And when I take even another small step, I am reminded: Never underestimate the power and passion of a parent.