On May 27 I went to my 50th college reunion. And Harvard being Harvard there was a lot of backslapping about how our class kicked ROTC off campus, created the Afro-American Department, and advanced civil rights and women’s liberation.
I attended a symposium about coming of age during the Vietnam era, and finally understood why concentrating in biology had been so damn hard. Forty percent of our class had switched to pre-med to avoid the draft. Normally only 20 percent of Harvard’s classes are made up of pre-med students.
So I had to compete with all those would-be lawyers and business tycoons instead of working with nice laid back marine biologists.
Others of our class joined the Peace Corps, interned on Indian reservations or practiced medicine in far off corners of the world. The experiences changed their lives largely for the better. One classmate married a Kiwi and spent his entire career in New Zealand; another fell in love with the American West and set up his medical practice in Phoenix.
All of us had all been forced to take time off from our lockstep progress toward our careers to serve others while expanding our own horizons at the same time. I can’t think of a better argument for obligatory national service, perhaps concentrating on cleaning up the environment.
The war, civil rights and women’s rights were the focus of everyone’s attention in those heady days. Only a few of us nerds hanging out in the biology, anthropology and geology departments were concerned with the environment. It was considered a less important and rather unhip issue.
Why, even Republican senators considered themselves environmentalists because they wanted to conserve land and have clean water so they could catch more fish and kill more deer.
Because it was not concerned with human rights the environment was not really considered a people issue. I remember reading an article in a leftie newspaper entitled, “Why the Environmental Movement Sucks.” It made the argument that ecology was sucking money and energy out of the issues that really mattered.
People now finally realize that climate change is the transformational issue of our times. There can be no civil rights, no human rights, no women’s rights, no economy and no civilization on our rapidly overheating planet.
What I found most interesting is that the environment has come of age. Fifty years ago, overheating was a distant threat – something that could affect our grandchildren, maybe our children, but certainly not us.
Now we realize it is us who can’t drink our own water, but we can get skin cancer and have our houses burn down in out-of-control forest fires or washed away due to rising seas.
Today the rock star of the environmental movement is Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old student who walked out of her classroom to sit on the steps of the Swedish Parliament to shame them into voting on environmental regulations. Thousands of other students have followed her example,
She has made the environment into a people issue because she can envision how much the world will have been diminished when she is 20, when she has her own children, if she is lucky enough to become a grandmother.
Good job, Greta. The movement now rests on your capable shoulders. Good luck and may the force be with you. Lycka Till Greta!
Bill Sargent is a North Shore science writer and contributing columnist. His most recent book, 20,000 Years on the Merrimack River is available in local bookstores and through http://plumislandoutdoors.org, and at www.ingramcontent.com.