During my 1960s childhood summers, a truck periodically came through our neighborhood, spraying trees with insecticide. My mother called us inside, closing windows and doors until the truck was gone. (My husband recalls riding his bike behind the truck, playing in the fog.)

Afterward, we walked on the sticky, DDT-coated leaves that stuck to our bare feet.

I still remember the acrid smell and my nose wrinkling in primal rejection. But it never occurred to me that anyone would harm me, knowingly or not.

Raising children on Queen Anne Hill 20 some years ago, we would never have allowed that, nor would today’s parents, because we know better now, right?

Yes and no. While we clearly wouldn’t allow the DDT truck through, something much worse is at play now, something that should be a top priority for all of us. Climate change is endangering not just our neighborhood but our entire planet, gravely threatening our children’s and grandchildren’s futures. This is not a theory; this is not a conspiracy. This is science. It is true, and it is dire.

In early June, with a handful of Queen Anne friends, I heard Chris Hedges speak at First Hill’s Town Hall. A journalist, activist, author and Presbyterian minister, Hedges spoke solemnly about the global power structure that, unchallenged, will bring us down and destroy the environment in the process.

The power elite, he said, will use up everything in the name of profit until there is nothing left. Citing examples of complex societies (think Romans, Mayans) who destroyed themselves through overconsumption, overpopulation, exploitation of resources and unrestrained greed, he explained to a stunned audience that this time around, the game is up. There are no more lands to conquer, no more get-out-of-jail-free cards. When the global capitalist machine goes down, it is taking the planet with it.


There is still hope

Scared? I am. And you should be, too. If not, then think about this:

•A huge, unexplained toxic algae bloom shut down crabbing and clamming on the West Coast this summer.

•The polar ice cap is disappearing.

•Extreme weather events are occurring worldwide.

•Animals are changing migratory patterns.

And much more — all linked to human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels. According to the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report for Policy Makers: “Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming and understanding of the climate system.”

In an article on the website Truthdig, Hedges quoted author Ronald Wright (“What is America?: A Short History of the New World Order), “Societies go on doing things that are really stupid because they can’t change their way of thinking. And that is where we are now.”

So how do we change? What do we do? We are busy! We are working! We have our causes! But without a planet to hand off to our children, without an environment, none of these things matter one bit.

If we close our eyes to this, or use our busy lives as an excuse not to take action, then we are just as bad as parents who, albeit out of ignorance, allowed their children to play in the DDT fog.

Researching this, I found much that disturbed me — but also some hope.

A court in Holland ordered the Dutch government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by the end of 2015.

The pope’s now-famous encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’, links economics and greed to the fragility of the planet, calling for immediate global action.

Authors and journalist Naomi Klein urged leaders to read the pope’s encyclical in its entirety and has joined Pope Francis and Ghanan Cardinal Peter Turkson in their efforts.

As I write this, a climate summit is occurring in Rome. A major climate change conference will take place in Paris at the end of this year. And numerous U.N. meetings have been and are scheduled to take place this year.

But that does not mean we can relax. We are running out time of to stop this, according to Hedges, who explained that if we eliminated all carbon emissions right now, it would take time to see results. When you hit the brakes on a car going 120 mph, it doesn’t stop immediately, but slows down until it comes to a halt.


What we can do

This is hard stuff. It requires us to step out of our daily routines to educate ourselves, our children and our peers.

Off the top of my head, here are a few things that I am trying to do and that you can do, too:

Read. Research. Look up the folks mentioned above and see what they are saying.

Buy biodegradable baggies.

Become educated as to what products are petroleum-based and avoid them.

Show up and be counted in protests.

Need a new car? Consider an electric or a hybrid.

How about solar panels on your roof?

Vote for politicians who make the environment a priority.

Voice your objection to the Bakken crude oil tanks rolling by lower Queen Anne on railroad cars, making their way north.

I don’t claim to be an expert on climate change. But we are experts on our own lives and our own needs, and we need the planet.

In truth, the planet will remain — it is we who will disappear. Despite our differences, all can agree that stopping the destruction of the environment is in our best interests.

The biggest obstacle to the “imperative to change course,” Cardinal Turkson said, is not economic, scientific or even technological, but rather “within our minds and hearts.”

We need to try.

Hedges said, “We may not succeed, but at least we can look back and say we tried. And our children and our grandchildren can say, ‘They tried. They really tried.’”

IRENE PANKE HOPKINS (irenehopkins.com) lived on Queen Anne for 20 years. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.