White ele­phants sym­bol­ize jour­ney and re­spon­si­bil­ity

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY SAB­RINA S. FU Sab­rina S. Fu is a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Univer­sity Col­lege and co-re­gional co­or­di­na­tor for the Mid-At­lantic re­gion of Cit­i­zens Cli­mate Lobby.

I re­turned from vis­it­ing to my par­ents in Sun­ny­vale with two beau­ti­ful ivory ele­phants and placed them into our daugh­ters’ rooms in El­li­cott City, Mary­land. Each time I pass by those ele­phants, I get flash­backs of my past, a sense of guilt and a sense of re­solve to do bet­ter — all mixed to­gether.

The ele­phants’ jour­ney with us is the typ­i­cal im­mi­grant suc­cess story: a fam­ily en­ter­ing the U.S. with two suit­cases and debt, and emerg­ing a few decades later with very suc­cess­ful chil­dren.

Eight-year-old me held those ivory ele­phants in my carry-on from Burma (Myan­mar) to Hong Kong, then to Seat­tle and fi­nally to Min­nesota. They re­mained packed as we spent sev­eral weeks in the base­ment of my un­cle’s home. I have no me­mory of those ele­phants in the dif­fi­cult years my fam­ily of five spent in a cramped two-bed­room apart­ment. I do re­mem­ber those ele­phants emerg­ing once we could af­ford our own lit­tle home in St. Paul, Min­nesota.

See­ing those ivory ele­phants re­minds me of my fam­ily’s jour­ney to hold onto some­thing of the past while build­ing a new fu­ture. They also re­mind me of how our planet has changed since those ivory ele­phants were legally pur­chased in the early 1970s.

Back in 1970, most Amer­i­cans treated the world as though it had in­fi­nite amount of re­sources — from oil to ivory. In the al­most 50 years since 1970, much has changed in­clud­ing the dou­bling of the hu­man pop­u­la­tion while many other mam­mal pop­u­la­tions, such as ele­phants, have been cut by half or more.

The scary part is that today, when we should know bet­ter, we con­tinue to use re­sources and en­ergy as though our world is un­lim­ited. Cer­tainly, I bought into the Amer­i­can dream of own­ing a sin­gle­fam­ily home, driv­ing, hav­ing two chil­dren and trav­el­ing to visit fam­ily and friends. In that process, I have used a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of re­sources for a world with 7.7 bil­lion peo­ple.

I know that I ben­e­fited from the era of avail­able fos­sil fu­els as it made pos­si­ble our cross-global trip from Ran­goon (Yan­gon) to St. Paul, as well as my par­ents’ jobs, the goods we were able to buy and our abil­ity to choose world-class ed­u­ca­tion. Al­most all of the goods and foods around me are made pos­si­ble by fos­sil fu­els as well as my abil­ity to visit my fam­ily. Here lies the seed of the guilt I have: What am I to do with the knowl­edge of this chang­ing world and the need to change from the di­rec­tion that seemed so good for my fam­ily?

Guilt never does any good un­less it be­comes re­solve to do bet­ter and find so­lu­tions. Right now, we pre­tend that the driver of our eco­nomic en­gine, fos­sil fuel, has no eco­log­i­cal con­se­quences. But we know that it does. For ex­am­ple, the $3 gallon of gaso­line is only priced for how much it costs to ex­tract, re­fine, ship, store and sell it. What about all the eco­log­i­cal con­se­quences along the way of ex­trac­tion, refin­ing, ship­ping, stor­ing and us­ing? We have sev­eral cen­turies’ worth of data on the eco­log­i­cal costs of fos­sil fuel ex­trac­tion and use with­out con­sid­er­ing eco­log­i­cal costs: oil spills, wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion, Su­per­fund sites, poor air qual­ity and cli­mate change. Let’s face those facts and work on how we can tran­si­tion to 21st cen­tury en­ergy sources much more rapidly.

My par­ents sought a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment for their chil­dren to grow up in, and that meant mov­ing to Amer­ica. Be­cause of their sac­ri­fices, I am blessed to be ed­u­cated and fi­nan­cially sound, and part of the most pow­er­ful na­tion in the world. Hence, try­ing to pro­vide a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment for my chil­dren in the 21st cen­tury should in­clude tack­ling the largest threat to their men­tal and fi­nan­cial well­be­ing — cli­mate change. That is why I work tire­lessly ev­ery day to have bi­par­ti­san cli­mate leg­is­la­tion rein­tro­duced and passed in 2019.

Those ivory ele­phants in our daugh­ters’ rooms re­mind me daily to be part of the change I want to see.

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