We Can’t Breathe the Air?!?

I’ve been eager to send a newsletter to the Taproot Community, telling about some new Family Taproot events, August All-Day Programs we’ve added to the schedule, remind people about fall Sprouts and After-School Program, and tell them about the amazing Taproot friends Bur Oak Land Trust and the Johnson County Conservation Board.

I also wanted to crow about how awesome 2023 summer camp has been, how the Taproot Leadership Camp, Sprouts Camp, Cambium and Sapling Camp have been loving the amazingly full and fun days fully immersed in nature, adventurous learning, and warm friendship!

Also our Foundations Program for 8th-12th Graders kicks off this weekend with a campout and a trust-building trip to the UI Ropes Course, and the cohort is taking shape for our 2024 Spring Break adventure to Ecuador, where we’ll be learning about the local community, strengthening our Spanish, working on land conservation projects and offsetting our carbon footprint by planting hundreds of trees, along with surfing, fishing, hiking, and doing yoga by the ocean!

Of course, summer is an intensely busy time for Elesa and me, and I wasn’t sure when I would find the time to make this newsletter…when all of a sudden I had a camp-free day. But not for a good reason. We had to cancel camp today because the air is unsafe to breathe. Here’s an excerpt from the email I sent to camp families:

“I’ll cut to the chase. The forecast says the air outside will be too unhealthy to breathe tomorrow, with the advisory recommending people stay inside closed, air-conditioned buildings. There’s no such thing as indoor Taproot Camp, so we have to cancel. If by some miracle the winds shift and things drastically improve we will reconsider, but please make other plans for your kids for tomorrow.”

There is no doubt that the massive wildfires that are causing this unbreathable air are largely a consequence of human-caused climate change, just like there is no doubt that the toxic algal blooms and bacterial contamination that in recent years have rendered so many of our Taproot swimming spots un-swimmable are a direct result of human actions. For years I’ve been saying although it’s pretty bad, we should stay hopeful and keep working because it could get a lot worse—there could come a time when we say “remember when we could swim in Lake Macbride and wade in Turkey Creek? Remember when we could go outside without a respirator?” Well today is a hint at what’s coming.

This is why we have Taproot—to make sure these kids know what we have on this beautiful Earth, and what we need to protect. If they’ve never swum in a clean lake or played in a creek teeming with animals, or tromped in a prairie and picked a fistfull of flowers, or eaten a freshly caught bluegill, or helped a woodpecker fledgling climb safely back up a tree after it tried to fly too soon, then they won’t know what’s at stake, what we’re on the brink of losing. Most of these kids are not able to process this idea right now. It’s too big and scary and they don’t have any real power to do anything. Their job now is to have a wonderful, fun, soul-nourishing experience in connection with the Earth and their fellow humans. It is our job to provide that, and it breaks my heart that we couldn’t do that today. Tomorrow looks doubtful as well.

This cloud of smoke will probably pass in a day or two and we’ll be able to have Taproot Camp again. For awhile. But there will be another, and another. I know all of you do things every day to help the earth. These things are critically important and we need to keep doing them and so much more, but we also need to remember that us regular families buying less plastic, or using a bamboo toothbrush, or installing LED bulbs and driving an electric car, or recycling our pop cans, or not eating meat, or growing our own basil, or shopping at the farmers’ market with reusable bags, or all of the thousand other things I know you all faithfully do, are not going to be enough to save the world. The corporate executives and their politician employees who rubber stamp obviously insane laws would love to lay that responsibility on you. We need wholescale systemic change.

I’ll leave you with a powerful message from one of the most courageous, visionary, and inspiring Earth Super Heroes to ever walk among us, 20-year-old Greta Thunberg (who was actually 16 when she spoke these words at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland):

“We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint — the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform — the bigger your responsibility. Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”