Our house is on fire

The Athens News

By Aaron Dunbar

April 21, 2021

Growing up, I never spent much time thinking about the house where I lived.

As far as I was concerned, it was four walls and a roof. A house was something a kid simply had by virtue of being a kid, and I devoted very little thought to the possibility that things could be otherwise.

I never really considered the financial burden of home ownership on my parents. I certainly spared no consideration for our home’s previous owners, or the fact that someone, at some point, had poured their blood, sweat, and tears into building it in the first place.

The idea that some other, future family might some day live here, or that our home may eventually cease to exist altogether, was equally foreign to me.

I was, of course, at least hypothetically aware of all these things. But they were like a kind of background noise to my everyday life.

Home, as far as I was concerned, was a constant; something to be taken for granted. And I suspect that this is probably a pretty common attitude for a child to have growing up.

There’s a saying I’ve encountered often as a climate change activist: “Our house is on fire.” With our house, of course, meaning the Earth.

And yet I can’t help but wonder, if someone had come up to me as a child and told me, “Your house will burn down tomorrow,” would I have believed them? Could I even conceive of the idea as a possibility?

And so, it seems, is our attitude toward the planet. Even people like me, who dedicate huge amounts of energy to understanding the climate crisis, often fail to live our lives as though we grasp how bad things are going to get if we fail to take action.

We simply cannot comprehend the vastness of deep time and Earth’s immense, frequently lifeless history.

We struggle to appreciate the rarity of conditions that allow life here to flourish. We underestimate the fragility of these conditions, their role in our development as a species, and how badly we’ve managed to screw up the biosphere in such a mind-bogglingly brief period of geologic time.

We see the Earth as a child might– as a permanent, unchanging backdrop to our individual lives.

This is a lesson we must unlearn, if we are to have even a hope of averting climate catastrophe.