When I was a kid, my uncle took my sisters and me to visit his Air Force base in Delaware. The highlight of the tour was the monolithic C5 aircraft – one of the largest military aircrafts in the world. At six stories tall and the length of a football field, it was one of the most impressive things I had even seen. Airmen swarmed about, loading, unloading, and saluting my uncle as he walked past. I was in awe.
Years later, now that I have children of my own, it is my boys who have taken up the fascination with aircraft. They fly their airplanes around the living room, dive bombing each other’s heads and crashing into the couch. Their favorite planes are characters from a Disney movie – Planes: Fire & Rescue – which tells the story of brave planes who fight a forest fire that is ravaging a national park.
My boys get to see these planes in real life far too often. Living in the Rocky Mountains, on hot summer days as we lay out in the backyard, we see the red and white planes of the U.S. Forest Service soar low above our home weekly. I point out that they can still see the windows on these repurposed passenger jets, and they pretend to swoop and soar around the backyard.
The days when the planes fly far away from us, we can enjoy simply watching them zoom past. The days that they stay closer to home are what worry me.
Climate change has led to an increased number of large wildfires in the Western United States. As temperatures tick upwards, the snowpack melts earlier and forests dry out quicker causing fires to spread rapidly. Thunderstorms grow more severe and lightning strikes more often. If the average summertime temperature increases by 2.9 degrees, the overall area burned is estimated to double by the end of the century.
On far too many summer days, we stay indoors with the windows shut tight and watch our city be overtaken by an eerie, smoky glow. The smoke swirls in our street and even the early morning light gives the impression of a setting sun. Our fabled Big Sky disappears under the smog, and the news warns us that the air quality outside is worse than in Beijing.
My children press their noses up to the glass, fingers wrapped around toy planes, longing to run free again. I check the air quality alerts on my phone religiously, and tell them it looks like we will be staying inside again today, too. The situation frustrates me as much as it frustrates them. No child should be sentenced to a life indoors because our country stubbornly refuses to recognize their basic right to clean air.
When they aren’t dreaming of becoming astronauts or paleontologists, my sons aspire to be forest fire fighters when they grow up. They envision themselves wielding powerful hoses and deftly piloting planes through narrow escapes. The desire to be the hero is strong at this age. It reminds me of the men and women swarming the C5 aircraft that day I toured the base years ago, diligently working towards a goal. Twenty years later after that trip, top U.S. military officers would be announcing that “the current trajectory of climatic change presents a strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security, and inaction is not a viable option.”
Our country does not lack the strength, fortitude, or ability to address climate change. (Tweet this) It is evident to me, the mother of two young boys living in Montana, we need to take swift and decisive action. Too many people are already hurting from the devastating affects of climate change. We have the capability, but it’s clear we must do more to protect the health of future generations. We need to match the passion of little children who want to nothing more than be the heroes who put out the fire.