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A New Mother’s Struggle With Climate Change

I used to be uncomfortable with the concept of grace. I had been asked to believe that grace was something bestowed upon us from above, but that idea didn’t fit with what I was observing around me in the natural world. Then a few months ago I had an encounter with grace that changed my life forever.

But first, some background.

Written by Rebecca Claassen

I studied Earth Science at Cal Poly where, for four years, I learned to think in geologic time. And now every road cut tells me a story of the Earth unfolding and of the long past stretching out behind us.  As I hike I often stop and stare at rocks and imagine the prehistoric conditions that caused their formation, which, as my husband Jacob will tell you, can make me a very slow hiker. Thinking about all the different faces that the earth has had over the last billions of years fills me with gratitude for the planet’s current conditions, of the life-giving water and oxygen we enjoy on our “blue boat.”

I spent another four years in Chiropractic school, studying the mystery and awe-inspiring wisdom of the human body. In most of my classes — anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology — I learned and relearned one basic thing: the phenomenon called life is a miraculous gift.

My awe for life was reaffirmed when I had my daughter Hazel a year and a half ago. I fell deeply in love with her and experienced a transition in my relationship to time. While most of my education kept me focused on the past, Hazel’s arrival connected me to a strong desire for a safe and sustainable future.

About six months ago, while researching for an eco-friendly housecleaning co-op, I was deeply disturbed by the discovery that the harvest and production of ingredients in some eco-friendly products was wreaking havoc on the environment. Further research led to a crash course in other environmental issues, such as Bill McKibben’s poignant article about the terrifying new math of climate change. Although I knew that global warming was something I would have to face in my lifetime, the article led me to face the stark realities that will face Hazel and I felt despair like I had never known before. 

I recall sobbing in Jacob’s arms one night, telling him how in tough times prior I would take solace in the fact that Mother Earth is so forgiving and that time in nature would heal all wounds. What if the only plants and animal species to survive the rapid climate disruptions were the ones that humans decide to take care of? The “End of Nature” as we know it. I had never felt such pain. I felt fear for my daughter’s future and sorrow for the species we had already lost.

dothemathThe idea that we will set off run-away climate change in the next few years if we don’t leave 80% of known fossil fuel reserves underground and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions left me oscillating between despair and paralysis. Pictures of lifeless oceans and deserts spreading across most continents filled my mind. Before I had met Hazel’s eyes with smiles and wonderment and now I felt terrified and disconnected. My three main sources of gratitude – love of the earth, awe of life, and joy of motherhood – collapsed all around me.

Then grace stepped in. One morning, in an unusual trip to Oak Park, I ran into a fellow member of my church who did me an eternal favor. She sat with me, acknowledged my pain and helped me access internal resources I didn’t know I had. I was released from the grip of cataclysmic thinking. With my paralysis lifted, and new friends by my side, I turned to action as the antidote to despair.

Soon after this, some friends and I launched the local chapter of Bill Mckibben’s campaign 350.org – a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.  I took that first step on my own and quickly discovered that I was joining a parade. I am now surrounded by people who are on the same journey, and feel supported by many who are engaged in this work.

I also read Joanna Macy’s book, Active Hope, which taught me to embrace uncertainty. I’ve given up attachment to the outcome of my actions. I am not numb. I am not in denial. I still feel the pain as strongly and sharply as I did before, but now I can hold it, let it ripen in my heart and then release it and let it fuel my work.

A friend recently asked me what I would do with an eighth day of the week and I quickly replied “more of the same! There is nothing else I would choose to be doing with my time.”

Now, when I look into my daughter’s eyes, I have the courage to face the future. I hope that she will grow up to be courageous enough to stay connected to other people on her adventure. I hope to instill in her the value of connection, strength of heart and courage to face whatever she will have to face, after I’m gone.In the meantime, I have to be able to tell her that I am doing everything I can to prevent the most devastating effects of climate change.

That is why we at 350 Santa Barbara are helping people host screenings of Bill Mckibben’s Do the Math film.

I am thankful to Bill McKibben for laying it out so plainly for us. We absolutely must leave 80% of known fossil fuel reserves underground if we want any chance at a future that supports complex life forms. It is this focused message that has given me much needed direction. Before, the realization that we only have a few years to turn things around left me overwhelmed by all of the world’s seemingly unsolvable problems. It was difficult to get started or to prioritize. Now, because of the urgency and clarity provided by the “math of climate change,” I am able to focus on this one message that can truly make a difference.


350.org’s founder Bill McKibben’s article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” appeared in the July 2012 issue of Rolling Stone. Read the article >

Learn more about McKibben’s “Do the Math” movie and watch the video >

The Santa Barbara chapter of 350.org is offering to provide assistance to anyone interested in hosting a Do the Math house party.

Please contact Rebecca Claassen or Max Golding at [email protected]

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