I became a father seven years ago on the eve of Father’s Day. I’ll never forget the first gaze into my daughter’s eyes, with her look of recognition at this man who had sung to her for months in momma’s belly. The feeling that filled my being in those first moments of her existence was the power of love on full throttle.
I quickly came to understand that these feelings are universal, shared in equal measure by fathers and mothers for countless generations in every corner of the globe and in every circumstance. Whatever our differences, the depth of love for our children is a stronger unifying force than all that divides us.
As a new father, the notion of creating a better world for our children became imperative, urgent. At the top of my list was helping to turn the tide on climate change, which will create an increasingly chaotic world for our children if we stay the current course.
By the time Rosie turned 1, we started listening to a candidate for president who was saying things like, “I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
Campaign rallies were populated with new parents and our children, all of us feeling that “hope” and “change” were not glib slogans but connected to our deepest yearnings. I made “Babies for Barack” buttons and got elected delegate to the national convention in Denver, where I organized a “Families for Obama” rally. Moms and Dads spoke from their hearts about what was at stake for them in the election.
Now, five years later, the expectation of transformative change has given way in many instances to cynicism or frustration. Nowhere is that more true than on climate change. Last year was the hottest year on record in the U.S.; the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than it has been in 3 million years; droughts, floods and storms are becoming more severe; glaciers are melting at an alarming rate and the oceans continue to rise.
Obama has continued to say the right things about climate change. In his second inaugural address he said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
In his State of the Union address this year, he said: “for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change … if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”
It sounds good, but words won’t make the planet livable for our children and grandchildren — actions will. So far, President Obama’s actions have been far too meager to stop the slow rolling disaster that climate change is.
It’s true that President Obama is saddled with a House filled with climate change deniers, who defeated an amendment stating the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and caused largely by humans. Until climate deniers in Congress are replaced with representatives who accept scientific evidence and are less beholden to fossil fuel interests, President Obama must lead, as promised. What President Obama does or doesn’t do to confront climate change will be his longest-lasting legacy.
Without waiting for Congress, President Obama could start walking the talk on climate change right away by taking three specific actions: Approve rules for making buildings, appliances and lighting more energy efficient that have been held up by his Administration for years; instruct the EPA to enact new controls on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants; and stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
We parents, with an instinct to protect our children from harm, need to make fighting climate change part of our job description, and take action as if the lives of our children depended on it. As the poet Drew Dellinger put it, “My great-great-grandchildren won’t let me sleep: what did you do while the earth was unraveling?”
Let’s make Father’s Day a day to begin using our power to demand that President Obama, the Father in Chief, match his words with real action on climate change, for the sake of our children and their future.
John Friedrich lives in South Lake Tahoe. He is a member of Climate Parents, an organization working to confront climate change for the sake of all children.