Thursday, December 13, 2012

One Kid Against Climate Change 

We have always been a politically active family.  The Barracuda's first camping trip was an old growth logging protest along the PCT.   By 4 he could explain global warming and felt a strong desire for our household to be personally active against it.  We always watch the President speaking and regard it as our responsibility as citizens.  The Daily Show and Colbert Report have been household dinner companions frequently since he was 2.  There aren't many car trips which don't involve NPR before music.  These sorts of things.  So, it should come as no surprise to me when earlier in the week The Barracuda announces a desire to go to one of the Scoping hearings occurring for discussion about the coal trains.

Up for proposal is the largest coal production in the United States with direct exportation to China and South Korea.  The coal would come from Montana and be trained through our neighboring town and all along the Columbia River Gorge.  This would increase the current coal trains from somewhere between 4 to 10 a day, to one passing for 30 minutes of every hour, 24 hours a day.  We are talking a whole lot of coal.  Actually, very few people are talking about it and that is kind of scary.  To find out more, go here.

As usual, he was the only kid at the press conference.  By now he is used to that and it doesn't bother him.
The Barracuda feels this is irresponsible.  He doesn't think it is very forward thinking.  He doesn't like that such corporate decisions are being made as quickly as possible during the holiday season where people are busy.  Apparently, he has been thinking about it a lot and decided to go and let important people know about it.

"They don't have to listen to me, but I need to speak."

How exactly does one turn down your child when they say things like that?

This found us traveling by bus for over an hour each way to the local college to attend the press conference and then the hearings.  Along the way, The Barracuda asked me if I would take down what he wanted to say.  From watching others, he knows how easily you can forget what you intend to deliver and how quickly 2 minutes can go.  So I took dictation as stoically as I could as the bus slowly got quieter and quieter when they realized what The Barracuda was doing.  No one expected him to speak.  They just thought I was forcing him to go.  When they realized, they began talking to him like an actual person and preparing him for what he might encounter.

Since this was a formal hearing, The Barracuda had to provide a written statement of his testimony, his full name, address, and agree to allow what he said to be added to both the video record and the official transcript being documented by a stenographer.  No one was allowed to clap, the room had to be incredibly quiet, and the microphone was physically shut down at 2 minutes and 5 seconds.  There was a timer directly in your face so you could see where you were on the time limit.  It was much more intense than we had ever been to before. 

It was also a lottery.  That means anyone who wants to speak is given a ticket and only a certain number of tickets are pulled each hour.  Luckily, we got called.  The Barracuda was number 55 of 60.  So we listened to scientists, teachers, grandparents, business owners and citizens all talk about their concerns.  We listened for over 2 and a half hours until it was his turn.

He was undaunted by the formality and spoke as if somehow this happened every day.  I was a total wreck.

His testimony went as follows:
"Hi.  My name is Dae.  I am here to ask you to stop the coal trains. 
I understand that this is a lot of money.  I understand that people want jobs.  I understand that families in China and Asia want to heat their homes. 
I want that too.  I want my future family to have jobs, money, food and warmth.  I want my future children to have a world they can play in that is beautiful. 
In your generation it might not matter.  But, in my generation it might.  In my generation it will affect climate change.  In my generation it will affect the ecosystem. 
I know that people are worried about having a job.  They are scared because they want their kids to be safe and happy.  I want that for my kids. 
I am scared, too. 
I can't fix this.  I have no power.  No one in my generation does.  I am 8.  I can't be a governor.  I can't sit on a board to decide things.  I can't even vote. 

All I can do is trust you to make the right decision.  To think of me.  To think of my generation.  To think about a future from now where we will be trying desperately to fix a broken planet. 

Thank you.  Please be responsible with my future.
Some people clapped, even though they weren't supposed to.  Some people cried a little, even though they tried to look like they weren't.  Some people gave him hugs and some gave him high fives.

We went into the after-room for some snacks and found the mayor of Vancouver there.  He spoke at the press conference, so The Barracuda knew who he was.  The Barracuda thanked the mayor for standing up against the coal trains even though it could get him fired (not re-elected). He told him it was a brave decision and he was glad someone was standing up for the next generation and the future.  The mayor thanked him for the exact same thing.  They shook hands.  It was pretty cool.  The mayor went on to say, "You aren't really powerless you know.  You have the power to influence people just like me.  Judging from what you just did in there, you're pretty good at it."  The Barracuda smiled and thanked him while they both continued to eat snacks as though they were just two guys hanging out on campus.

The first of many potential political encounters.  I'm very glad this one went well.  Thank You, Mr. Mayor.

As the night turned cold and rainy we all boarded our bus once more and headed home.  There was much talk of where to go from here.  Beer was broken out, hummus passed around, political contacts swapped and strategy debated.  The Barracuda is working on a letter to the editor of the local newspapers.  He wants to hold a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) training so people better understand how the appeals, scoping, and hearing process works when companies violate or deliberately limit an EIS (Environmental Impact Statements).  He attended NEPA 101 that was held when I worked for an anti-logging organization way back when.  Apparently some of it stuck.

It is an odd feeling to be back on the political lines.  It is even odder to be in a complete role reversal - this time I'm following my child.  Our children are very powerful when we let them be - when we allow them to care about issues, when we support them in their pursuit to be heard, when we provide them the tools to educate themselves and others.  I can only imagine what the next 6 months will look like, but he's pretty fired up.

Watch out world, here comes one kid against climate change!

3 thoughts:

Mel said...

That's so great that he (you guys) did that! Living in Montana, we are hearing a lot about it, too. This morning on Yellowstone Public Radio they were talking about Montana kids speaking out against it. I don't know if it will change things, but people all along the rail lines and beyond need to speak up. The Barracuda and the other kids are a great inspiration.

Moonwaves said...

Wow. What a fantastic guy. Looks like you've definitely done something right there.

Heather said...

So awesome! I live along the route as well, but in Eastern Oregon where they plan to transfer coal from trains to barges; and where I am definitely in the minority in my opposition to this project. Like your son said, people want jobs and money and have a hard time looking beyond that. I hope to help my 3-year-old daughter be as informed and brave as your son. Great job, Mom!

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