When my youngest child graduated college recently, I sat sandwiched between my mother and daughter while my husband's camera clicked away. A sea of black caps with pink tassels faced the stage gleaming with heightened expectancy. Speaker after speaker approached the podium to impart pearls of wisdom to the graduates. They spoke of fueling passions, finding patience, proceeding with integrity, working hard, accepting failure and being kind, grateful, humble and ethical. Each speaker concluded by noting that the future belongs to the graduates.
I observed the young guys with their freshly shaved faces and the young women with their flatly straightened hair, sitting tall, with cell phones in hand. They looked like the lungs of the planet -- soaking it all in. These children have experienced so many of nature's gifts: days at the beach digging for buried treasure, astonishing rainbows to paint, spring flowers to pick, trees to climb, bugs to catch, strawberries to gather, birds to feed and stars to wish upon.
As parents, many of us have been fighting to protect the environment since before our kids were born. We've educated ourselves and our children. We made sure they grew up with Earth Day, and learned about the issues of conservation, pollution and climate change. We taught them that our planet comes with a simple set of instructions:
Take care of the water, land, and air.
Even those of us who have given our children deep ecological roots, somewhere along the line these simple instructions have been misplaced...
Water pollution has come about because chemical, biological and physical matter have been dumped or deposited into the oceans, rivers and streams. Water pollution carries toxic substances such as mercury that gets emitted from coal-fired power plants. Mercury drifts through the air and rains down into reservoirs, rivers, lakes and the ocean. Every state in the country has issued a fish advisory of some type because of unsafe mercury contamination. Tell Congress to defend the mercury and air toxic standards.
Land pollution has eroded the Earth's natural surface. Industrial, commercial, domestic and agricultural activities have caused the land to lose 24 billion tons of topsoil each year. Oil, gas and coal production practices lead to an increase in heat-trapping pollution that gets released into our atmosphere and contributes to more severe weather events. As our environment gets warmer and moister, the land changes. Support strong regulations on carbon pollution.
Air pollution is produced from energy emissions that accumulate and spew hazardous substances that harm the health of our children... and other living things. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.6 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution. Every year, 335,000 Americans die of lung cancer. Asthma is one of the most common chronic disorders in childhood, currently affecting an estimated 7.1 million children under 18 years. Air pollution is physically damaging and costly. Fight for healthy air.
When my family left the graduation ceremony, both my kids were dying for coffee (they had gotten up at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m.). With the same urgency of needing ice cream as young children, they ran in to get their caffeine fix. I noticed the blackboard on the wall of the cafe read:
"Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet." -- Bob Dylan
As our children graduate across the country, my hope is that the planet-saving roots that anchored so many of these college graduates to fertile ground will not be shook to the core by greed, politics and apathy. The future is theirs and they are going to need to get very, very wet.