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Taking Responsibility--NOW

The conculsion to "Sharing Stories: Mary Robinson, Climate Change, and Us" series.


“The mountains are calling, and I must go.” For the 47 years of our marriage those words have driven my husband and me to pack our car, turn westward from our Grand Rapids home, and drive to the northern Rockies. Across the Great Plains--sumptuous in their winter wheat crops, newly-planted corn, beans, oats, wheat, millet, sorghum. Across the mighty rivers carrying winter snows and spring rains to the sea—the Illinois, Mississippi, Des Moines, Missouri, Platte—their waters a rich blessing to our country.

Although Michigan had experienced a cold and wet spring, we were unprepared for what we would experience as we traveled the interstate highways toward Wyoming in early June. Thousands of acres of unplanted fields, late-planted fields, fields that were lakes.  Miles of winter wheat fields waiting for the rain to stop to be harvested. Fields in which heavy farm equipment was immersed in the untraversable mud. Our magnificent rivers had overflowed their borders, invading cities, roads, and farmlands—stranding livestock and diverting travel before roaring into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a dead zone of farm and chemical run-off.  Fishing and recreation disrupted.

We were unprepared for what we would experience
Tom and I were witnessing a climate phenomenon. Newspapers added to the story.  Following severe drought, Alberta, Canada, was containing devastating wildfires over thousands of acres. The Great Lakes were approaching their highest levels with piers covered, beaches closed, and shorelines eroding. Seattle, Oakland, and Florida were setting fierce, high-temperature records. New York City declared a climate emergency. TIME magazine’s cover story was “Our Sinking Planet,” And the bleakest headlines of all, showing government-funded studies proving the dangers of climate change were buried.

As our comfy vehicle rolled through the heartland, emitting 19 gallons of carbon for each gallon of gas it consumed, Tom and I were drawn to the many scenarios of Mary Robinson’s Climate Justice—from Malawi to Mongolia—floods, droughts, food shortages, and devastation.  And, like Natalie Isaacs, the Australian businesswoman who, in 2006, spurred by the wildfires devastating her continent, Tom and I reinforced our commitment to take responsibility. Take responsibility NOW.

Tom and I reinforced our commitment to take responsibility.

However, our “NOW” has taken on a new urgency. In 2006 we too were steadily taking incremental steps to reduce carbon. Meat was gone from our diets. Single-use items were disappearing from our lives--plastics, cutlery, dishes, paper products. Carpooling, walking, and bicycling were increasingly our regular transportation. We drove hybrid vehicles. Composting and recycling received the majority of our waste. United States households contribute 4% of all carbon emissions. We took responsibility. We reduced. One step at a time. 

Upon returning to Grand Rapids we acknowledged a realization that “Taking Responsibility” could have a larger definition.  Our leaner personal lifestyle spoke to our living out of our faith through our actions, and caring for God’s creation was a profession of our faith.  Yet, we were ready to expand our passion and profession to new levels. We were seeing new responsibilities.

At our first Sunday back at church, and we met with our Creation Care Team to talk about moving beyond personal responsibilities. Conversations buzzed. Our congregation is entering a new building project, and we can begin the work of attaching a solar energy plan to this project. Housing in our church neighborhood is not sustainable. We can be change agents.  Our city is setting up community collaboration citizen groups on climate change, sustainable energy, more efficient recycling. We signed up to be voices and agents of change in this group. Taking Responsibility has many doorways.

Taking Responsibility has many doorways.

We are humbled and empowered by reading Mary Robinson’s hopeful accounts of the citizens across the globe who have told their stories, changed their communities, and created awareness.  We are thankful for opportunities to join their witness. Change is here, and we are empowered to take responsibility for our actions, our families, our communities. As Natalie states, “We just have to keep on fighting…one person at a time.”


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