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Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

Spencer Rendahl: The Year Of Why

When my second child turned four last November, I began reliving what I call “The Year of ‘Why?’”

“Why is today Tuesday?,” he’ll demand. “Why don’t people play with dinosaurs? Why are ‘bad guys’ mean?”

My son’s “Whys” can go on all day if I let them, but often they’ll end with me grabbing, tickling, and teasing him: “Why, why, why?” He’ll giggle – and ask another “why?” More tickles and giggles follow. It’s not the worst way to spend an hour.

This past spring, though, as we dealt with the coldest April I can remember after an exceptionally frigid winter, I took the “whys” more soberly.

“Why is the stove on?” he’d ask almost every evening in April about our wood pellet stove, which normally gets shut off for good by mid-month.

“Why is rain good?” he’d ask after what seemed like three straight weeks of rain that month.

I’d explain that normally we’d have more warm sunny days in April in northern New England. I didn’t add, though, that normally Georgia doesn’t get snowstorms. Normally northern Florida doesn’t get two feet of rain in 26 hours. Normally California doesn’t experience fiery tornadoes.

We know climate change is the reason why things aren’t normal. Humans have been emitting increasing amounts of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere causing global temperatures to rise, which are in turn causing extreme weather patterns.

Naysayers continue to argue that climate change is a hoax. Recently Florida Senator and presidential hopeful Marco Rubio said that he didn’t think climate change was man-made, while acknowledging that scientists would disagree.

And 97 percent of climate scientists would indeed disagree. They aren’t questioning whether or not temperatures are rising – or if humans are the cause . They’re determining how much worse weather extremes will get if we don’t take more significant action soon. Any Tropical Storm Irene or Hurricane Sandy survivor would tell you they already can get pretty bad.

My family is trying to lighten its carbon footprint. There’s no mass transit in our small New Hampshire town, but my husband and I carpool as much as possible and fly as little as possible. We grow a lot of our own vegetables. We drive hybrid cars. But when I see satellite images of the West Antarctic Ice shelf the size of the Dakotas melting - which will raise sea levels by at least 10 feet in the next century - I realize that if we don’t cut our carbon footprints much more, our children will soon face an even less stable world of more extreme droughts, famines, and dislocations. I believe that how we respond is perhaps the most important moral issue of our time.

I want my son and daughter to thrive on our planet with the same life-giving seasonal regularities that I took for granted growing up. I dread the possibility that we will ignore the facts and continue with business as usual – and that kids of the future will be forced to ask “why” with far more urgency.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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