I remember the cacophony of tiny chirps outside of my childhood home made by frogs that lived in the ice grass. I remember this sound in particular because of the beauty in their voice and because in what seemed like the blink of an eye, they stopped. They were gone. It was only decades later that I learned about the devastating losses that frog populations have faced around the world due to climate catastrophe.
And yet, decades go by. We continue losing what we love, and things don’t seem to change; attitudes are so slow to catch up. Recently General Sherman came under fire, yet again, as temperatures rise and our forests are dry and sick. The world-renowned sequoia, the largest tree in the world, shrouded in aluminum foil for an actual giant. He was saved, but so many others, unnamed, were lost.
We lose loved ones and humans we don’t know but could have loved, too. We lose them to heat-related illness, respiratory illness and poor air quality, extreme weather events, starvation, and new actual food deserts caused by the climate crisis. Health care workers see the effects firsthand.
As I worked through this pandemic as a resident, weary and questioning my life choices in the emergency department, the feeling crept up on me that maybe we weren’t worth saving from ourselves. In an age of disregard for our neighbors, our planet, ourselves, and in an age of COVID-denialism as I watched a husband and wife die from COVID within days of each other in the ICU, I wondered. Are we worth saving? Do we deserve the beauty of this life while simultaneously choking the light out of it?
My answer is a resounding yes. But we need to hold on to these things we love. Tight.
For as many callous, racist, rude, violent, inconsiderate humans I have encountered as a physician, I have met countless more loving, kind, caring, content, grateful individuals. A friend who is always there for doctor’s appointments, a child’s unfaltering care for a parent on their deathbed, and kids who love, I mean truly love, living in the most simple of ways. As I was taking stock of our worth as a human race, these moments shone bright in my mind.
The worst part of the climate crisis is that our kids, my kids, may never get to witness the most beautiful parts of our world because they may, and will, cease to exist without our action and power. As I watch my own kids looking out over the ocean on a clear, cool day in awe at the behemoth of wonder before them, I know they are the ones I am fighting the battle against the climate crisis for, and I beg you to fight too.
Beauty in the world and love of our environment and each other are not partisan issues; they are simply the components that make our lives worth living. And if that is not worth saving, then I don’t know anything that is.
Elizabeth M. Barreras-Rivest is an emergency physician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com