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Mallory McDuff, Ph.D. Headshot

One Day: Faith, Fate and the Climate

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My 5-year-old started kindergarten the same week as the release of the movie "One Day," which the Christian Science Monitor described as a "rom-com weepie." While the reviewer didn't mean it as a compliment, I immediately bought my tickets online. I like leading-lady Ann Hathaway and was feeling weepy when my daughter discreetly asked me to leave the classroom after I took her to school.

I'd read the book "One Day," which reflects on one day over the course of 20 years in two people's lives. This narrative prompted me to consider the convention of reviewing one day (July 15 in the movie) or even one month across the span of my daughter's life with a focus on the climate around her.

In this case, I don't mean the climate of star-crossed lovers whose future depends on seemingly random events. Instead, I was interested in the earth's climate, and ultimately the planet on which my children's future happiness may depend.

In the spirit of highlights, here's what happened in July over the past five years:

  • 2006: Support grew in California for the Global Warming Solutions Act, which passed the Senate and Assembly in August and required the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent.
  • 2007: Media responded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fourth report that found "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and due to human activity and the emission of greenhouse gases.
  • 2008: Writer Bill McKibben and college students organized participants around the world for 350.org, a global grassroots organization to confront the climate crisis.
  • 2009: The U.S. House of Representatives passed comprehensive climate legislation June 26, but the bill died in the Senate in July.
  • 2010: The Deepwater Horizon oil spill continued to dump millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • 2011: Extreme weather events were recorded across the globe, including flooding, droughts and the all-time hottest month in July in many U.S. cities.

On a personal level, these events influenced my daughter in small but concrete ways: When we returned to my Gulf Coast hometown for July 4, 2010, no one could swim in the Gulf of Mexico because of the oil in the waters and on the beaches. In 2011, tornadoes destroyed the homes of close friends in Alabama and North Carolina. My daughter still asks me when another oil spill will happen and if a tornado will hit our town.

These fears may seem inconsequential in the eyes of adults, but anyone who has listened to the worries of a child at bedtime knows that often there are truths behind those furrowed young brows. While she doesn't realize it, my daughter's worries in part reflect our reluctance to recognize the impact of the continued burning of fossil fuels and our belief that infinite growth is possible on this earth.

As an educator, I know that apocalyptic warnings send people into denial and paralysis. As a mother, I also believe that faith and hope are more powerful than fear. (It's one reason I could watch "When Harry Met Sally" yet another time.) But as the movie "One Day" reveals, the events of one day can change our lives forever. More importantly, the cumulative impacts of our actions (or inaction) have long-term consequences for the people and places we love.

In just one day last week, the journal Science reported that species are migrating north and climbing higher in response to climate change at a rate faster than predicted. The media responded to Gov. Rick Perry's claims that scientists "manipulated data" about climate change to garner research funding. And the Washington Post described climate change as a "wedge" issue, one that politicians are using to divide, rather than unite voters.

In this climate, I pray that my daughters can cultivate empowering actions to confront global warming, rather than negative skepticism about the authenticity of some political leaders. I want my children to know that their actions on any given day can make a difference, and that's not the stuff of Hollywood legends.

In my town of Asheville, N.C., First Congregational United Church of Christ installed 42 solar panels as a public witness to renewable energy. My former student Sadie Adams has started a business cultivating native plants for landscaping. And current students are working with the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture program to promote food security with local foods in public schools.

Much is being done. While we cannot avoid the tragic impacts of climate change, we can act to mitigate and adapt to its realities. We can create momentum as a collective force, rather than individual actors, waiting for a script or consensus from the capital. The opening scene has already begun.

Around the Web

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