To the editor:
Climate change has been the subject of many voices in letters to The Gazette. This Earth Day (Friday, April 22), I’d like to bring in another voice, one from history, to measure how climate risks fit onto our own lifespans.
The voice is that of my great-grandfather, Joseph Bowman. A wagon maker in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1862 he enlisted in a volunteer Pennsylvania regiment to go to war. He was 22 and just under 5 feet 5 inches. Framed on my wall is a yellowed paper recording that on June 29, 1865, by-then-Corporal Bowman was discharged from the army. The Civil War had ended.
Bowman had likely enlisted to help rid the Union of the evil of slavery. But in addition, like many Northern soldiers, he probably rallied passionately to President Lincoln’s call to “preserve the Union” — the one created by a war that had begun only 86 years before Bowman enlisted. And I, Bauman’s great-granddaughter, was born 86 years after he enlisted.
Recognizing today what those soldiers did for us by saving the Union makes me want to preserve our bigger union: the Earth-load of people who ultimately depend for our survival on the Earth’s climate.
For we’re in another war now, against the effects of the warming climate. The battlefield losses are visible everywhere: droughts and floods, severe storms, rising sea levels, international conflict brewing over endangered resources. It will take hard work and the continuing resolve of nations to protect life on Earth as we know it. Importantly, this war can be won if we start quickly — by putting a price on carbon.
The year 2100 is often forecast to be when we will confront the worst if we don’t act now. It’s very tempting for us to avoid thinking about this. We wrongly assume we can’t do anything about it, and again wrongly think it’s a long way off, so we turn away.
But the people of 2100 aren’t faceless strangers, and 84 years to 2100 isn’t a long time: It’s the within possible lifetime of a baby born today, and that of the baby’s children and grandchildren. My own granddaughter will be 86 in 2100, if her life goes well, and her children are very likely to be alive then. Like my great-grandfather Bowman, I want to “save the union” for those great-grandchildren — the Union of people who have enough resources to sustain them and the other life forms we depend on. Certainly all parents and grandparents, and those who care about all species on Earth, would share in this wish.
Right now, on this Earth Day, the odds are not good — unless we demand that our leaders act.
Joseph Bowman and the Union soldiers would tell us: “We shouldered the risks of war by choice, because we believed in preserving the ‘more perfect Union’ for you. There’s much more at stake in your war and time is short for your family. Enlist and save the Union.”
E. Marianne Gabel